Chanakkuh (also commonly spelled Hanukkah) is one of the most widely celebrated annual Jewish holidays. Lasting eight days, Chanakkuh celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. This event was pivotal in the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.
Hanukkah has evolved into a family-oriented holiday, somewhat similar the Christian Christmas holiday. In fact, Hanukkah’s modern prominence largely seems to be due to its proximity to Christmas. Jewish families will often exchange gifts and hold dinners during Hanukkah, making it an important part of Jewish lifestyle.
Compared to other holidays, such as Yom Kippur, Chanakkuh is actually a relatively minor holiday, at least from a religious point of view. Instead, the holiday focuses mostly on family and friends. It should come as no surprise that many of the traditions, such as playing dreidel and eating oil-based foods (often meaning fried kosher foods) focus on spending time with loved ones.
Often called the “Festival of Lights”, Chanukah’s most distinctive feature is perhaps Hanukkah menora, which is a nine branched candle. Hanukkah starts by lighting one candle, which is usually placed above or below the other ones. Then, as the days go by, that candle, the shamash, is used to light the other eight candles until all are lit.
Why Fried Kosher Foods Are So Popular During Chanukah
Thanksgiving has its turkey, Christmas has its roast ham, and Chanukah has its fried kosher foods. For some people, fried foods might seem like an odd choice for a holiday dinner (think of fried turkey pieces). However, fried foods carry an important symbolic meaning on hanukkah.
During the Second Temple’s rededication, a small flask of oil was used to keep the Menorah lit for eight straight days. This was considered a miracle, as there was no way such a small flask should have been able to keep the candle going.
So during Hannukah, Jewish families celebrate the “miracle oil” by eating foods cooked in oils. Latkes, or potato pancakes are very common. So too are pontshkes, or jam-filled donuts, bimuelos (think: fritters).
Dairy Products Are Common Hanukkah Treats As Well
Dairy products are also often consumed, with cheese being particularly popular. Sometimes, the cheese is deed fried, with cheese filled latkes being quite popular. Cheese’s popularity stems from a different (and more bloody) source, however.
Legend has it that an Assyrian general had surrounded the village of Bethulia in an effort to conquer Judea. The pious widow Judith went to the general’s camp, pretending to surrender. Then, she fed him wine and cheese until he fell asleep and beheaded him.
Don’t Forget the Schnitzel
Another popular favorite is schnitzel. While schnitzel actually originated in Austria, it has become a favorite in Israel and among Jewish communities the world over. Chicken schnitzel, in particular, is a popular go-to choice.
Schnitzel features a thin pounded meat, often chicken, that is then covered in batter and spices and cooked in hot oil sauce. This makes schnitzel a great choice for those looking to celebrate Judith.
Other Hanukkah Traditions
Besides great food, gift giving is also quite popular. Gift giving appears to be a more recent addition to Hannukah, and to be quite blunt, is likely more a product of consumerism than religion. However, there is historical precedence for giving money to the poor, teachers, and other members of the community. This practice is called “gelt.”
There’s also the ever popular dreidel game. While dreidel is actually relatively easy to play, it can be a bit difficult to explain. If you want to learn how to play dreidel, you should reach out to the Jewish community, someone would be glad to teach you!
No matter what holidays, if any, you’re celebrating in the weeks ahead, we wish you a great holiday season and a happy new year as well!