All of the last week has been the festival of the lights – the Jewish Holiday of Hannukah. The holiday is commemorating the rededication of the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, one additional light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of eight branches with an additional raised branch. Every family has their favorite ones, and often children will create one for the family at school. The extra light is called a shamash (“attendant”)and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest. The purpose of the shamash is to have a light available for use, as using the Hanukkah lights themselves as a light source, is forbidden. Often families will exchange gifts or give the children Chocolate Money ( called Hannukah Gelt).
The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees.
These books are not part of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), they are apocryphal books instead.
The miracle of the one-day supply of oil miraculously lasting eight days is first described in the Talmud, written about 600 years after the events described in the books of Maccabees. After the forces of Antiochus IV had been driven from the Temple, the Maccabees discovered that almost all of the ritual olive oil had been profaned. They found only a single container that was still sealed by the High Priest, with enough oil to keep the menorah in the Temple lit for a single day. They used this, yet it burned for eight days (the time it took to have new oil pressed and made ready).
The ancient Jewish Historian Flavius Josephus narrates in his book Jewish Antiquities XII, how the victorious Judas Maccabeus ordered lavish yearly eight-day festivities after rededicating the Temple in Jerusalem that had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Josephus does not say the festival was called Hannukkah but rather the “Festival of Lights”:
“Now Judas celebrated the festival of the restoration of the sacrifices of the temple for eight days, and omitted no sort of pleasures thereon; but he feasted them upon very rich and splendid sacrifices; and he honored God, and delighted them by hymns and psalms. Nay, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this festival, and call it Lights. I suppose the reason was, because this liberty beyond our hopes appeared to us; and that thence was the name given to that festival. Judas also rebuilt the walls round about the city, and reared towers of great height against the incursions of enemies, and set guards therein. He also fortified the city Bethsura, that it might serve as a citadel against any distresses that might come from our enemies.”[
So the holiday has a wonderful history and the tales around it are retold year after year as the candles glow with the lights of children’s faces all around. Such happy times.
( Note I have a special pre-Xmas blog posting coming up next week – look out for it! With special Christian versions of all my music and more….)
Traditional foods for the Hannukah holiday are delicious ( certainly not low cal) and fun to make when Cooking with Kids!
Here is my favorite recipe for potato latkes- enjoy!
- 6 large yukon gold potatoes peeled
- 1 large white or yellow onion
- 2 eggs beaten
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of sugar, and salt to taste
- Just enough flour to hold the ingredients together
- Butter – 1 tablespoon ( or more as needed)
- Cut peeled potatoes into chunks and chop in food processor.
- Cut onions into chunks and chop in food processor.
- Mix potatoes and onions together in a colander (they will generate a lot of liquid) over a large bowl and let the mixture drain. The children can help with this. Show them how a colander works.
- Pour mixture into a large bowl and add beaten eggs, salt, baking powder, sugar, and a tablespoon of flour at a timem until mixture holds together. The kids can help with this too. They love mixing things.
- Mix well.
- In a fry pan, melt butter – you do this part!
- Spoon heaping tablespoons of the mixture into the oil.
- Flatten each spoonful with the back of the spoon to make thin latkes.
- Fry until the edges turn a dark brown.
- Flip over to fry the other side.
- Drain on a paper towel.
- Serve with apple sauce and/or sour cream.