Continuing with my theme of diversity, and understanding the many and varied traditions and celebrations of different cultures and religions …
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday which is also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights. In 2009, Hanukkah begins December 12th and ends December 19th. The holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi’in from Syrian King Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for re dedication. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication.” When the sacred temple Menorah was re lit, there was only enough sacred oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days.
In remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. An extra light called a Shamash is also lit each night, and is given a distinct location, usually higher or lower than the others. The purpose of the extra light is to adhere to the prohibition, specified in the Talmud, against using the Hanukkah lights for anything other than publicizing and meditating on the Hanukkah story.
Children receive gifts of gelt (coins) or money and play games of dreidel. The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on Hanukkah. Some traditional foods are those which are fried in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted eight days. Deep fried puffs dipped in honey or sugar as well as potato pancakes, known as latkes, are traditionally eaten during Hanukkah.