As I sit here reflecting on the eight nights of Hanukkah, I am amazed that this year the starting and ending dates eluded me. Hanukkah is nearly over as I write this! However, the world can always use more light, and as Hanukkah is a celebration of light, I felt compelled to post my thoughts.
Hanukkah translates to “dedication”.
The land that Jewish people consider to be “the Holy Land” was in 164BC, ruled by a group that wanted the people of Israel to assimilate. A battle won by a band led by Judah the Maccabee allowed the reclaiming of their temple in Jerusalem. They rededicated it to the God of Jewish tradition. When the people went to dedicate the temple, they found enough olive oil to last one day. Miraculously, it lasted eight. Hence, the eight candles of the menorah, symbolizing the eight days of light the oil provided.
The Shamash is the candle that lights all of the other 8 candles in the menorah. Some holders, as seen in the photo below, include a space for this candle. The collective candles burn brighter each night as one more is added until finally all candles are lit, including the shamash.
As a child, I was confused by the date of Hanukkah moving every year. While most of the world uses the Gregorian calendar, the Jewish calendar relies on lunar months of 29 or 30 days. Hence, Hanukkah can fall between November 27 and December 26 in any given year.
Why blue and white for Hanukkah?
While not traditional outside America, the colors were chosen to represent the connection to Israel. Blue and white are theologically connected to Judaism. In America’s late 1940’s, Hallmark latched on to these colors (and silver) to bring notice to the holiday in the marketplace when Jewish children were feeling unseen and disconnected during Christmastime. The blue and white made Hanukkah recognizable as a celebration and brought positive attention to the Jewish faith.
Let’s talk about sufganiyot and latkes!
Both fried in oil (schmaltz – rendered goose or chicken fat), latkes (potato pancakes), and sufganiyot (round yeast-raised pastries) are two of my favorite Hanukkah foods. Originally the pastries were meat-filled, but the Labor union promoted the jelly-filled version to keep bakers busy at a time of year when business was usually slow. The first ones were inspired by smushing two pieces of bread together with jelly in the middle, and then frying them! That doesn’t seem nearly as appealing to me as the donuts I see in bakeries today! Today 18 million jelly-filled “sufganiyot” are consumed daily during Hanukkah.
Latkes were made initially from rye or wheat until potatoes were introduced into Eastern Europe.
Some references say ricotta cheese was added to the grain or potato. The ingredients of either latkes or pastries aren’t the point. The schmaltz is the point, representing the eight days of oil.
Light up the world!
Each lit menorah candle reminds us that it takes only a small light to brighten a large path. This lesson reminds us that like the shamash, we each can be a candle spreading light in a world searching to illuminate the dark; inspiring, and enlightening others.