My family is Jewish, although not very religious, so we sometimes had a small Christmas party when I was growing up, but we usually celebrated Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a strange holiday; the only reason why it is so important is that it is close to Christmas.
The holiday is to celebrate a rebellion in Israel. The famous Greek king Alexander the Great conquered many countries including Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Israel. After this, Israel and the Jews were controlled by Greece. The Jews and the Greeks believed in different gods. The Jews believed in one God and the Greeks believed in many gods.
When the Greeks conquered Israel they made the Jewish religion illegal. Also, they built a statue of Zeus, the King of the Greek gods in the Jewish temple. This angered many Jews. A rebellion, led by a man called Judah the Maccabee, forced the Greeks to leave Israel. Hanukkah is the holiday to celebrate this.
One of the main legends of the holiday is the miracle of the oil lamp. After the Greeks left the temple, the Jews wanted to light lamps in the temple for a religious ceremony. The problem was that there was only enough oil for one night. The story says that God created a miracle so that the lamp oil would last for 8 nights. The holiday of Hanukkah is 8 nights long.
The main ceremony of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah. A menorah is a special candleholder for 9 candles. The first candle is the leader candle. On the first night of Hanukkah people light 2 candles. First they light the leader candle and then they use the leader candle to light the second candle. Each night an extra candle is added to the ceremony. On the eighth night, first they light the leader candle and then they use the leader candle to light the other eight candles.
Because of the miracle of the oil, traditional Hanukkah food is usually fried in oil. In America, the main Hanukkah dish is latkes. Latkes are fried potato pancakes. They are similar to hash browns (hashed potatoes). Latkes are usually served with cinnamon and sugar, applesauce, or sour cream. Usually, there is also a meat dish such as beef brisket or chicken
Recently, Hanukkah traditions have been affected by Christmas traditions. In the past, Hanukkah was not an important holiday. The main holidays for Jews are Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Passover. Because Hanukkah is in December, it has become more important, being called the “Jewish Christmas”.
A recent tradition is giving gifts. Because Hanukkah is close to Christmas, many Jews started giving gifts on Hanukkah. This is a new tradition. Usually children are given 8 gifts, one gift for each night. In my family, we usually got one big gift and 7 smaller gifts.
When I was a child I preferred Hanukkah because I got presents but as I’ve gotten older I have come to like the other holidays better. They are more serious and have older deeper traditions.
rebellion (n) – a situation in which people fight against the government in their country.
conquer (v) – to take control of a country or to defeat people through war
legend (n) – an old story or set of stories from ancient times
miracle (n) – something wonderful that is very surprising or difficult to believe
brisket (n) – a cut of meat from the breast or lower chest of a cow
affect (v) – to influence someone or something or to cause them to change