Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish wintertime festival of lights. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt (167 – 160 BC).
We celebrate Hanukkah at sundown from Thursday, December 10 to Friday, December 18, 2020.
There are public Hanukkah menorah lighting ceremonies at Grand Army Plazas in Midtown, Manhattan and Prospect Park, Brooklyn.
Hanukkah is Hanukah is Chanukah
Hanukkah is also spelled Hanukah or Chanukah. The “cha” is pronounced “kha,” hence the various spellings.
The dates of Hanukkah vary with the Hebrew calendar. It is usually in December, but sometimes in late November.
The Story of Hanukkah
In the second century BCE, Jerusalem was ruled by the Seleucids,a Syrian-Greek dynasty. When the Seleucids tried to force the Jews to worship Greek Gods, a small group of Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, revolted. They defeated one of the great armies of the time and reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem.
When they went to light the Temple menorah, they found only one good jar of olive oil. The Greeks had ruined the rest. They lit the menorah anyway and began preparing new oil. Miraculously, that one-day supply lasted for eight days until a supply of new oil could be prepared.
The special Hanukkah Menorah holds nine candles. We use the center candle, the shamash (attendant), to light the others.
On the first nigh we light one candle. Each night we light another until all eight candles are lit. Each night we recite special blessings, sing songs, and eat fried food such as latkes with applesauce or sour cream and jelly donuts to remember the miracle of the oil. Yumm!
Children play with the dreidel. It is a spinning top with four Hebrew letters on it. Children can win small gifts depending on which letter lands up when the spinning stops.
We give Hanukkah Gelt (chocolate money) to children. It’s an old tradition with multiple levels of meaning.
Hanukkah is unique in that we show our menorahs publicly. The Chabad Hasids of Williamsburg, Brooklyn are major promoters of public Hanukkah celebrations around the world.
It’s easy to trivialize Hanukkah the way Christmas has been trivialized, but it is a family and communal time of sharing and teaching who we are to the next generations.
Hanukkah in New York City
There are many ways to celebrate Hanukkah in New York City.
The World’s Largest Menorah Lighting is at Grand Army Plaza in Midtown, Manhattan and at Grand Army Plaza in Park Slope, Brooklyn (Oy Vey!).
Manhattan menorah lightings are generally at 5:30pm (Fridays 3:30pm and Saturdays 8pm).
Brooklyn menorah lightings are generally at 6pm (Fridays 3:30pm and Saturdays 7pm).
Hanukkah Sameach! (Happy Hanukkah!)