Hanukkah traditions change with the times

Pavel Warzecha, Contributing Writer

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Many students will ecstatically wake up on Christmas morning to enjoy gifts and time with family. The school’s Jewish population will similarly awaken to find presents, but on numerous days throughout the holiday season. Receiving daily gifts is one of the various traditions that take place during the historical Jewish celebration of Hanukkah.

The holiday originated in about 200 B.C., when the Maccabees revolted against the Seleucid Greek government, which heavily oppressed the Jewish religion. The success of the revolution prompted the start of the holiday which has survived until today.

A popular Hanukkah story also heavily influences the holiday’s celebration in the present day. Junior Connor Puritz, who celebrates Hanukkah, explains the story’s religious relevance.

“The menorah in the Temple of Jerusalem was required to burn for eight days in order to cleanse the temple, but there was only enough oil to burn for one night,” Puritz said. “Yet by a miracle, the oil burned for eight days until a new supply of oil could be prepared.”

As a result, the “Festival of Lights” is eight nights long,  commemorating the miraculous burning of the menorah for over a week as well as the successful revolt against the oppressing Seleucid Greek government.

Since its origins, Hanukkah has come a long way in terms of worldwide popularity, recognition and celebration.

In fact, the general celebration of the holiday that exists today was not always as popular as it is now. Religiously, Hanukkah is not the most important holiday in Jewish culture. Other holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur carry much more significance in the Jewish faith. However, Hanukkah has gained popularity due to its celebration around the time of the Christian holiday Christmas.

Hanukkah has accommodated many traditions as time has progressed, many of which are practiced during the festival even to this day.

A popular Jewish children’s game that is played during the Hanukkah season is called dreidel. It involves a four-sided top, the dreidel, with four different Hebrew markings on each side. Children gather around and spin the dreidel, betting chocolate coins on which side it will land on. The activity has been a Hanukkah tradition for centuries and is still celebrated around the world.

Another important Hanukkah tradition is the lighting of the menorah, which takes place nightly for the duration of the holiday. On the first night of Hanukkah, the candle furthest to the right is ignited. Along with it, the shammus candle, a special candle in the middle of the menorah, is lit and three blessings are recited. Every night that follows adds another candle to the menorah until it is entirely filled with shining candles on the last night of the holiday.

Over 14.5 million people celebrate Hanukkah around the world today, and over time there have been numerous changes to how the holiday’s celebration and popularity, as well as many traditions that have remained the same.