About the event
The word 'Hanukkah' translates as 're-dedication', and the festival commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem when the Jews recaptured the city from the Syrian Greeks some 2,500 year ago. They found enough oil in the temple to keep the menorah (candle-holder or lampstand) lit for one day - but miraculously it stayed lit for eight days. So, during Hanukkah, on the first night one candle is lit, then on the second night two candles, and so on until all eight candles are lit. A separate 'servant' candle or Shamash, often situated above or below the others, is used to light them all. Other Hanukkah traditions include:
- Eating food fried in oil such as potato pancakes or doughnuts, to remember the miraculous oil from the temple
- Playing dreidel - a four-sided spinning top imprinted with Hebrew letters which refer to the miracle
- Exchanging gifts and 'gelt' (Yiddish for 'money') - often these are chocolate coins in foil.
How to approach it
This is a great day to introduce students to new cultures and religious practices. Tell the story of the miraculous oil or the Jews successful revolt against the Syrian Greeks.Talk with your class about the significance of the Hanukkah Menora and how it has become a symbol of judaism. If you have Jewish students confident enough, allow them to share their experience of this day with the class.
Hanukkah marks a formative historical moment for the Jewish people. What historical events do your family or your community mark and celebrate? Why do people think certain historical events are important?