JUDAISM | Hanukkah

12 to 19 December

Beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev and continuing for eight days, Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. A time for Jews to reflect on their struggle for religious freedom, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of Jewish Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army in 167 to 160 BC.

In addition to their usual daily prayers, Jews light the candles of Menorah (sacred candelabra) in their homes. The Menorah has great symbolism for Jews. It represents light, wisdom, Divine inspiration, and the spread of Divine light throughout the world. The first Menorah was a seven-branched candelabra, forged from solid gold and kept as a sacred vessel in the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Here, the seven candles were ceremoniously lit each day by the High Priest. Sadly, the Holy Temple was lost to Judaism, along with the city of Jerusalem, in 1967. Today, Jews have a nine-stemmed Menorah in their homes which they light every evening during Hanukkah. Special blessings are recited before the Menorah is lit; three blessings on the first night and two on the subsequent nights. Once the candles have been lit, the Hanerot Halalu prayer is recited and a traditional hymn sung.

Other Hanukkah traditions include playing games with the dreidel (a spinning top inscribed with Hebrew letters) and the exchange of gifts of gelt (gold). These days, instead of giving gold Jews exchange gifts of cheques, saving bonds, money, or gold, foil-wrapped, chocolate coins.

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