It all started with a war, some badasswho were the underdogs but won, a temple that was decimated, and some oil that should have kept a candle lit for one day that lasted for eight. Between the flickering candles, the jelly donuts, the potato pancakes with sour cream, not to mention presents, it’s hard to go wrong with this one. Wrap that up in a great story of triumph and you’ve got yourself a heckuva holiday! JewBelong's Hanukkah Guide includes the traditional blessings, plus updated ones for each night that you'll actually relate to, and a fun skit.
Eight days of gifts because the oil didn’t run out? I love us.
Not so fast. If you don’t know the story behind why we celebrate, it’s high time you did… Antiochus (he’s the bad guy) was a Greek king around the time 165 BCE. (That’s 165 years before the year 0). Antiochus wanted all the people in Judea (what we now know as Israel) to be hellenized – in other words, to start acting like Greeks. What with all the Greek gods and sacrifices, it’s not surprising that the Jews said, “No freaking way!” This made Antiochus furious, so he had his army make a huge mess of the temple in Jerusalem and to kill anyone who tried to stand in his way, which, of course, started a war…
The Jews who fought back were called the Maccabees, led by Judah Maccabee (a badass and also hot). It took a few years, and they were way outnumbered, but the Maccabees knew their way around the forests and were fighting ninja machines, so they eventually won.
It was time to celebrate! One of the first things the Maccabees wanted to do was clean up the temple. When they got there, they discovered a major problem. Every temple has a light that never goes out, called the, which signifies God’s presence. Back then, since there was no electricity, oil was used to keep the flame lit.
When the Maccabees got to the temple, they saw the eternal light was almost out of oil! They looked through the supply closet, but, you guessed it, all of the jugs of oil were smashed. They only found like a pint of oil left which was good to keep the light lit for about a day. BUT, the process for making oil took eight days, and unfortunately, there was no overnight delivery back then. They used that pint of oil and hoped for a miracle that the little bit of oil would last for eight days until the new oil was ready. And do you know what, they got one! The eternal light never went out! That miracle is why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights and eat food fried in oil, likeand jelly donuts. And why many of us put on those nasty three pounds during this holiday.
Even if everything you know about Hanukkah is from Rugrats.
Go all out. Start with aand candles. Gifts, fried foods like donuts and latkes (potato pancakes), chocolate , and even dreidels can add to the fun.
Menorah (Hebrew for lamp): File this knowledge bomb for the next time you are asked to play Jewish Trivia. A regular old menorah only has seven branches. A Hanukkah menorah, also known as a hanukkiah or a Hanukkah menorah, has nine branches (one candle for each night plus the. So every hanukkiah is a menorah, but not every menorah is a hanukkiah. Some families light just one menorah, and others have one for each member of the family, which can be a bit of a fire hazard but definitely adds to the beauty. You’ll need lots of them to last all eight nights (44 per menorah, to be exact). (Some families prefer an electric menorah but it’s just not as fun to turn a lightbulb if you don’t have to.) Candles are traditionally lit at nightfall, and, when possible, placed near a window so that the light is visible to all. We love that.
Gifts: Some families give a gift on each night. Seriously though, the idea of eight presents for each member of your family, especially if you have kids can feel a little daunting! Some families give one present on the first night and then treats for the remaining nights. Some families do the opposite and start with tchotchkes that lead up to a bigger gift. Some families plan a special night or vacation together. You get the idea. Do whatever works for you and try not to stress. We hate stress.
Fried Foods: Latkes and jelly donuts are tried and true and also delicious but get creative. French fries, onion rings, eggrolls, etc. Especially if the holiday falls on a Friday. (Get it? Fry-day?)
Chocolate Coins/Gelt: Gelt is Yiddish for money. On Hanukkah, in addition to presents, we’re supposed to give money to charity. Back in the day, before Venmo and Apple Pay, people gave their children coins to give away. Somehow that got translated to handing out those chocolate coins in the awesome ﬁshnet sacks. (Now we’re waiting for the next Hanukkah miracle, which will be a new way to get the foil off the gelt without embedding chocolate under our ﬁngernails.)
Dreidels: Have you ever played dreidel? If not, give it a try. We’re warning you, though, dreidel may be the dullest game ever, even with the gambling. It started when the ancient Jews were hiding in caves learning. They would play dreidel for a break. Some break! (We’d almost rather study Torah.) If you find a way to make dreidel a more exciting game, let us and the rest of the world know. It’s a good use for those aforementioned chocolate coins, though.
Gefilte fish isn’t served on Hanukkah. That should be gift enough.
JewBelong’s version of why we eat salty cheese during Hanukkah will shed new light on this not-very-well-known tradition. Warning: You may never look at a pair of Manolo’s the same way again!
First line: Director’s Note: You can either read this skit free-form by going around the table and having everyone take turns, or you can assign parts, or you can just have two people take turns reading … whatever makes your Hanukkah kick-ass! Last line: EVERYONE: HAPPY HANUKKAH!…
In this updated telling of the Hanukkah story, things get a little out of hand for two Maccabees, their wives, and an unexpected guest!
First line: Director’s Note: You can either read this skit free-form by going around the table and having everyone take turns, or you can assign parts, or you can just have two people take turns reading… whatever makes your Hanukkah kick-ass! Last line: ALL IN UNISON: Everyone’s invited! Happy Hanukkah!…
Does JewBelong have a Hanukkah skit? Hello, was Judah Maccabee a badass?
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vitzivanu lehadlik neir shel Hanukkah. Last line: Praised are You, God, Spirit of the Universe, who makes us holy through your commandments and commands us to light the Hanukkah candles…
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, she’asah nisim la’avoteinu, bayamim haheim baziman hazeh. Last line: Praised are you, God, Spirit of the Universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in their day at this season…
The Shehecheyanu is a great generic catch all prayer that’s basically saying, “Wow! We are really happy we got to this moment!” Like for example, after we have been working our asses off for months, when the new release of the JewBelong website goes live and doesn’t crash with all the high-fiving, we will say the Shehecheyanu.
First line: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu v’key’manu v’higiyanu lazman hazeh. Amen. Last line: Praised are You, Spirit of the Universe, who keeps us alive, sustains us, and brings us to this moment. Amen…
You're not crazy; it is safer to put the menorah in the sink.
Combining candle lighting with these readings and stories will make your Hanukkah celebration even more meaningful. Some of them are specifically Jewish, but most are based on the universal values we all hold in our hearts. Try it this way: read about peace the first night and then add acceptance the second night and so on. By the eighth night, you’ll probably be a little wiser and a whole lot more inspired.
First line: Day 1: PEACE. The first Hanukkah candle of the year sparks a call for peace. Last line: “Showing gratitude is one of the simplest yet most powerful things humans can do for each other…”
Some people say that Hanukkah is an ancient celebration of the winter solstice, and that we light candles simply because it gets a little darker each night. Personally, we’re all about the miracle of the oil.
First line: Some historians of religion have taught that Hanukkah is another ancient celebration of the winter solstice. Last line: And as the darkness descends with each progressive night, we light one more candle against the darkness…
Each candle is lit with a world-changing intention in this reading by Rami M. Shapiro, an award-winning writer and speaker on Judaism and spirituality.
First line: We kindle this light in honor of hope. Last line: May we never surrender to tyranny no matter how dear we hold the tyrant…
Download our Hanukkah booklet. It ain't a holiday without a funny skit and some meaningful readings.
This is Peter, from Peter, Paul and Mary. Sweet campy song.
First line: Light one candle for the Maccabee children. Give thanks that their light didn’t die. Last line: Let it shine through our love and our tears…
Debbie Friedman, of blessed memory, wrote a lot of poignant songs. This isn’t one of them. This is a silly song that once gets stuck in your head, won’t get out. Consider yourself warned.
First line: I am so mixed up that I cannot tell you, I’m sitting in this blender turning brown. Last line: And I am waiting for Hanukkah to come…
Funnyman Adam Sandler. Love this song!
First line: Okay, This is a song that uhh, There’s a lot of Christmas songs out there and uhh, Not too many Hanukkah songs, So uhh, I wrote a song for all those nice little Jewish kids who don’t get to hear any Hanukkah songs, Here we go! Last line: Happy Hanukkah!…
Hanukkah celebrates a famous Jewish military victory. Of course, the next one wouldn't come for 2000 years.
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Matzah with butter is delicious!