What is Hanukkah and how important is it?


Jack Zwirn

On Hanukkah, Jews light the menorah.

Jack Zwirn, Reviews/Opinions Editor

On December 18th, Jewish people will celebrate the first of eight nights of Hanukkah, the festival of lights. While Hanukkah is usually the first holiday that comes to mind when people think of Jewish holidays, it is not high on the spectrum of importance.

As a Jew, I was super excited to see the changes made to the school calendar; giving us a day off on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) and having Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) as a defined holiday. This means that there are not supposed to be tests or quizzes on that day. But when I tell someone “I’m Jewish”, they usually say “Oh! So you celebrate Hanukkah!” While it is great that people have something to link with Judaism, I want people to think of other aspects.

I want people to think of a group of people who have been harassed by others since the start of humanity; such as in ancient Egypt, the Hanukkah story, and the Holocaust. I want people to support the Jews in their struggles for equality.

The Hanukkah story is as follows:

In 168 BCE, the Syrian King sent his soldiers to Jerusalem, and destroyed the Holy Temple. The Syrians made it illegal to practice Judaism. Led by Judas Maccabeus, a small group of Jews who called themselves the Maccabees decided to rebel against the oppression.

Against all odds, the Jews prevailed in battle, but the temple was still destroyed. In the temple was the ner tamid, a lamp that is supposed to burn at all times. It was put out by the Syrians while they had control, but when the Jews took back control, they could only find enough oil to light the lamp for one day. However, the oil burned for eight days, hence the eight day celebration.

All Jewish holidays start at sunset, and go until sunset on the last day of celebration. Each night during Hanukkah, Jews light the menorah, a lamp that has nine candle holders. One candle for each night, and the shamash, which is a helper candle that is used to light all of the other candles.

While this part of the holiday is important to celebrate, the whole gift-giving aspect is not important whatsoever. It’s nice to receive and give gifts to others, but it is basically the same as the Christmas tradition. The gifts given on Christmas are symbolic of the tributes made to baby Jesus by the Three Wise Men after his birth. The gifts given on Hanukkah represent nothing. Gift-giving is only a part of the holiday because Christmas, which usually takes place around the same time, has gift giving involved. Gift-giving makes Hanukkah the most widely known Jewish holiday, but far from important in the grand scheme of things.