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Description and comparative analysis of the celebrations of different religions and confessions


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2.4. Chanukkah
Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The story of Chanukah begins in the reign of Alexander the Great. Alexander conquered Syria, Egypt and Judea, but allowed the people under his control to continue observing their own religions and retain a certain degree of autonomy.

Chanukah is not a very important religious holiday. The holiday’s religious significance is far less than that of Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot. It is roughly equivalent to Purim in significance, and here are not many non-Jews who have even heard of Purim! Chanukah is not mentioned in Jewish scripture; the story is related to the book of the Maccabees, which Jews do not accept as scripture.

The Chanukah candles are for pleasure only; they are not allowed to use them for any productive purpose. They keep an extra one around (the shamash), so that if they need to do something useful with a candle, they don’t accidentally use the Chanukah candles. The shamash candle is at a different height so that it is easily identified as the shamash.

The only religious observance related to the holiday is the lighting of candles. The candles are arranged in a candelabrum called a Hanukkiah. Many people refer to the Hanukkiah incorrectly as a menorah. The name menorah is used only to describe the seven-branched candelabrum that was housed in the Jewish Temple. The Hanukkiah holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash (servant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shamash candle is lit and three brakhot (blessings) are recited: l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking God for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and shehekhianu (a general prayer thanking God for allowing us to reach this time of year). The first candle is then lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. The candles are allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right (because people pay honor to the newer thing first).

It is traditional to eat fried foods on this holiday, because of the significance of oil to the holiday. Among Ashkenazic Jews, this usually includes latkes (pronounced “lot-kuhs” or “lot-keys” depending on where your grandmother comes from), or “potato pancakes.” Another tradition of the holiday is playing dreidel, a gambling game played with a square top. Most people play for matchsticks, pennies, M&Ms or chocolate coins. A dreidel is marked with the following four Hebrew letters: Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin. On Israeli dreidels, there is no Shin but rather a Peh, which stands for Po, meaning here. A traditional song of this holiday is “Maoz Tzur,” better known to Christians as “Rock of Ages” (the tune is the same as one of the more popular ones; the Christian translation takes substantial liberties).

On each night of Hanukkah at sundown, a new candle is lit. Traditionally, on the first night, one candle is placed on the rightmost branch of the hanukiah. The shamash candle is then lit and used to light the first candle. On the second night, another candle is added to the right end of the hanukiah. The shamash candle then lights the candles left to right (the newest candle is lit first). A new candle is added each night and the process is repeated until the eighth night when all nine candles on the hanukiah are lit

The celebration dates back to two centuries before Christianity began, and lasts for eight days. The word ‘Hanukkah’ means dedication, and honours one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history. The festival is a time for Jewish people to remember their victory in a battle against the Greeks over 2,000 years ago to practice their religion without restriction

Hanukkah Celebration & Menorah Lighting

The dreidel is a spinning top with four sides. On each side is a Hebrew letter: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, or Shin. These letters are an acronym for the phrase, Nes gadol hayah sham, or in English, "a great miracle happened there"

Why Jewish people eat salty cheese on Hanukkah? To honour Judith. Judith overcame Holofernes by feeding him particularly salty cheese. Holofernes was an extremely cruel and rude general of Assyria’s emperor Nebuchadnezzar. He was invading Bethulia, and if Bethulia fell, so would the rest of the country. The city planned to surrender, with little choice or hope otherwise. Judith, though, a young widow, reported to the enemy camp with a genius plan in mind. Judith was pretty. And Holofernes, like most men, had a weak spot for pretty, unwed women. He invited her to a banquet and the cheese-eating began. Holofernes was so thirsty after eating the particularly salty cheese that he downed glasses and glasses of wine until he passed out. Alone with him in his tent, Judith prayed to God for strength and then beheaded the guy. Clean sliced off his head. The Assyrian army was like a chicken with its head cut off without Holofernes. They quickly fell to a surprise attack by the Israelites


The video explains how to celebrate Hanukkah

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This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This web site reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.