Celebrating the Festival of Lights

While the many of Eastern Ohio residents are preparing for Christmas, Jews here and around the world are celebrating Hanukkah.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem following the liberation of the Jews of ancient Israel from the rule of another empire that attempted to prevent the people of Israel from practicing Judaism. Hanukkah is observed for eight days and nights because, according to tradition, a miracle occurred during the ceremonial cleansing of the temple.

During that process, the Jews had only enough pure olive oil to light the temple’s menorah for one day, but that small amount of oil continued to burn for eight days – the exact amount of time needed to prepare fresh kosher oil for the temple. An eight-day festival was established to commemorate this miracle.

The holiday may occur at any time from late November through December, as determined by the Hebrew calendar.

This year the celebration began on Tuesday, Dec. 12, and it continues through Wednesday, Dec. 20.

Today, the menorah still plays an important role in the holiday. Jewish families light candles on the menorah daily, adding one more candle each night.

Special blessings and songs are traditional parts of the observance. Foods fried or baked in oil are often part of the celebration, as are jelly-filled doughnuts and certain other types of cakes.

Playing with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is a popular activity during this time. In North America and Israel, many Jewish families exchange gifts during the festival, much like Christians do at Christmas.

Unlike Christmas is for Christians, Hanukkah is not a major holiday for Jewish people. It is not observed in a Sabbath-like way, and adherents are not expected to refrain from working or attending school, as they would be during the religion’s high holy days. It is, however, an important symbol of Jewish identity – and a celebration of national and religious freedom.

Those are liberties that certainly deserve to be celebrated.

We extend our best wishes for an enjoyable and meaningful holiday to our Jewish friends and neighbors here in the Ohio Valley.

And we urge readers of other faiths to learn more about Hanukkah and the Jewish faith as a whole.

Happy Hanukkah!