Nearly all religious holidays are full of traditions, and Hanukkah — the eight-day Jewish “Festival of Lights” — is no exception.
This year, Hanukkah will begin at sundown Tuesday, Dec. 12, and will continue until the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 20.
Though it isn’t considered a major Jewish holiday, Hanukkah nonetheless is one of the religion’s most widely celebrated observances.
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Jews over their Syrian oppressors in 168 B.C.
According to Jewish texts, the Temple in Jerusalem had been made into a shrine for Zeus, and Jews were ordered to adopt Greek religion and customs or face death at the hand of government authorities.
Led by Judah — who also was called Maccabee — and his brothers and father, the priest Mattathias, the Jews revolted against the powerful Syrian army. In three years, the Jews won their way back to Jerusalem and recaptured the Temple, claiming it again as a place to worship God.
Once the Temple was cleansed and rededicated, the seven-branch menorah was lit. Though there was only enough oil to keep the candles lit for one night, the menorah flame burned for eight days until more oil could be retrieved from another town.
Thus, the observance is known as “The Festival of Lights.”
The most visible symbol of Hanukkah is the nine-branched menorah, known as the hanukiyah.
Jews recite special prayers and blessings each night of Hanukkah as they light candles on the menorah. On the first night of Hanukkah, a single candle is lit. An additional candle is lit on each successive night of Hanukkah. By the last night of Hanukkah, all the candles on the menorah are lit.
The candles are lit with the shamash, or “helper candle,” which also stays lit.
The starting date for Hanukkah is based on the lunar calendar. Because of that, Hanukkah occurs at different dates from one year to the next.
The holiday begins each year on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, meaning Hanukkah can start as early as late November or as late as the end of December on the Western calendar.
Traditions ranging from playing games like spinning the dreidel to making special foods such as latkes to singing songs related to the holiday to lighting a different candle on the menorah each night during Hanukkah bring children, parents and grandparents together.
Beyond celebrations that take place in homes, special gatherings are held in synagogues across the nation and around the world.
Locally, a celebration known as the “Hanukkah Happening” will begin at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 15, at Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 S.W. Munson. The event will feature a dinner, followed by attendees gathering with menorahs they brought from home and lighting them at the same time on long tables placed end-to-end in the temple’s social hall.
A Hanukkah Shabbat service will follow at 7:30 p.m. in the Temple Beth Sholom sanctuary.
Warren Sickel, a longtime member of Temple Beth Sholom, said he has taken part in the Hanukkah Happening celebration for at least 30 years.
“I love it all,” Sickel said. “The service, the music, the food, and to be able to celebrate with fellow Temple Beth Sholom members.”
While Hanukkah isn’t a major Jewish holiday, “it is still important that we celebrate,” Sickel said.
“Hanukkah reminds us as Jews that once again in history we persevered and survived,” he said. “It further reminds us that we are fortunate to live in a country that allows everyone to choose their faith.”
Danelle Harsin, who also is a member of Temple Beth Sholom, said she has many favorite parts of the Hannukah Happening celebration.
“I love that every family brings a menorah and we light them all together,” she said, “and the light that shines from all of those menorahs is beautiful.
“I love eating latkes and traditional holiday food and sharing in conversations with my fellow congregants. Lastly, I have young children that love any opportunity to participate in an event at temple with their friends, and at this event they will sing in the youth choir.”
Advance registrations are needed for those planning to attend the Hanukkah Happening dinner. For more information, call Temple Beth Sholom at (785) 272-6040.
Contact reporter Phil Anderson at (785) 295-1195 or follow live reports @Philreports on Twitter. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/philreports.tcj/