The Festival of Lights, another name for Hanukkah, begins annually on the 25th day of the Kislev, a Hebrew month that typically falls around November or December. It’s a way for people of the Jewish faith to come together and remember a miracle that occurred over 2,000 years ago. It’s a story of heartache and hope, of fear and prevalence. Today, traditions commemorating that miracle include lighting the nine candles of the menorah for a period of eight nights, singing traditional songs, prayer, spending time with loved ones, gift-giving, and eating certain fried foods. But the story of Hanukkah didn’t begin that way.
According to History.com, 200 B.C. marked the beginning of the rule of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, in Judea (also known as Israel). He allowed freedom of religion for the Jews, but when his son Antiochus IV Epiphanes came into power, he outlawed Judaism and attempted to force the people to worship Greek gods. This order culminated in a bloody battle in Jerusalem in 168 B.C., when his soldiers killed thousands of people and utterly disrespected the holy Second Temple by sacrificing pigs and erecting a statue of Zeus. The rebellion movement was led by Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, one of which took charge after his father’s death and within two years was the leader responsible for driving the Syrians from the city.
Judah Maccabee was his name, and one of his orders of business was calling for the Second Temple to be brought back to its former state. When he and his soldiers were restoring it, they only had one day’s supply of untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning, but the light kept shining for eight nights until the men were able to replenish their supply — resulting in the famed Hanukkah miracle.
In honor of these eight crazy nights, we’ve rounded up seven ways the world celebrates Hanukkah. Read on to learn more.
More than six million European Jews died in the Holocaust, which originated in Germany. It’s an event that some like to think of as in the past, but effects are still real today. Many have expressed concern over renewed anti-Semitic feelings in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The PEW Research Center says its estimate of over a million Jews in Europe has dropped significantly since 2010. The ones who stay, though, continue to celebrate Hanukkah just as vibrantly as they have in centuries past — with special foods, music, and celebration of the rebirth of the Jewish community in Germany. A large menorah is lit every year since 2003 in front of Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate to give new meaning to the site of anti-Semitic rallies that occurred decades ago.
In India, those celebrating Hanukkah trade out candles atop the menorah for wicks dipped in coconut oil in order to honor the miracle of the oil that Hanukkah celebrates, according to a university professor interviewed by the Coca-Cola Company. He also mentioned that burfi, a sweet confectionery, is often eaten instead of latkes.
“Nes gadol haya po” means “A great miracle happened here!,” and this is part of why Israel is such a unique place to celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah. According to TEFL Academy, some families visit Jerusalem and Modi’in in order to pay homage to the sites of the events the holiday celebrates. Children often receive gifts and treats like the golden coins known as gelt. Many Jews living in Israel come from the Middle East and prepare unique traditional foods such as kuku savri, an Iranian egg fritter.
Hanukkah in Morocco is still celebrated with lighting the menorah eight nights in a row and enjoying fried foods, but some aspects of traditions are unique to this country. Traditional food includes couscous, which in the city of Fez is combined with caramelized onions and fried almonds and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. It’s customary to eat Moroccan Hanukkah doughnuts, called sfenj, which are often dusted with sugar, on the holiday’s third night.
Turkey currently has a core Jewish population of about 17,200, according to the American Jewish Year Book. A Penn State University professor told the Coca-Cola Company that “Ocho Candelas” is a popular holiday song to honor the menorah’s candles. And the fried food tradition extends to Turkey in the form of burmelos, or deep-fried fritters.
Hanukkah in the United States means traditions similar to other countries, but there is usually a specific focus on giving one or more gifts every night to the children of the family. Traditional foods include potato latkes and sufganiyot, or fried doughnuts common in Israel’s holiday celebrations. Traditional songs are sung, and games are played with the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top.
Many Jewish communities in Yemen and North Africa celebrate the holiday’s seventh night as a women’s holiday due to a story told in the Book of the Maccabees. The tradition commemorates Hannah and her seven sons, who chose to give up their lives in the face of Jerusalem’s ruling party rather than refute their beliefs.