Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

Just a Few Thoughts...about Chanukah


The other day I was listening to North Pole radio, and I heard the individual who was pretending to be Santa Claus say “Happy Kwanzaa” and “Happy Chanukah” and then proceed to announce that those were just other ways to say “Merry Christmas”.

Ummmm…no they are not. Kwanzaa has nothing to do with Christmas, and has only been in existence for a few years. It gives African-Americans a way to celebrate their culture and food, and it just happens to be celebrated during the period between Christmas and New Year’s.

Chanukah, which is exclusively a Jewish celebration, often referred to as the Festival of Lights, has nothing to do with the birth of the Christ child. The celebration was, in fact, born of a revolution against suppression of the Jewish religion.

The festival, which lasts eight days, is a celebration of fried food favorites; the oil in which the food is fried is representative of the oil which was used during the rededication of a certain temple at the conclusion of the revolution. The oil was needed to burn throughout the night in the menorah placed in the temple. Even though it was believed there was only enough oil for one night, miraculously the oil burned for eight nights, the amount of time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. The eight days of Chanukah commemorate this miracle, the oil, and not the victory as Jews do not glorify war.

Each day during Chanukah, similar to the candles of Advent which are lit on a weekly basis, Jews light one candle of the Menorah for each night of the festival.

The lighting of the candles is the only part of the festival considered a religious observance. Prayers of Thanksgiving, similar to those that Christians say during the holiday by the same name, are said. A Shammus, or ‘servant’, candle is also lit since the Chanukah candles can only be used for pleasure. If something useful needs to be done with a candle, the Shammus candle is used.

Gift giving has never been part of the tradition surrounding the Festival of Lights. However, because Chanukah and Christmas normally fall so closely together on the calendar, small amount of ‘gelt’, or money, are given to children in one’s immediate family. Gifts of gelt or any other small presents are not normally exchanged with extended family members.

Another tradition of Chanukah is playing gambling games with a dreidel, a square top. However, the coins being used to gamble are generally the chocolate kind that come wrapped in gold foil. The game came about during the suppression when individuals wanted to study the Torah – considered an illegal activity at the time, which was similar to the oppression of Catholicism during the reign of Henry VIII.

The four letters on the dreidel stand for the four words which translate to “a great miracle happened there”, referring to the miracle of the oil.


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