Or you can spell it Chanukah… Jews around the world spell it many different ways, but it’s always the same 8-day-long holiday that falls in either late November or December each year.
So why do the dates of Hanukkah change each year? Because according to the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah falls on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is different from the solar calendar we use in our daily lives. Each of the 12 months on the Jewish calendar are either 29 to 30 days long, and every two to three years, an extra month is added in the spring — much like our leap year adds a day every four years.
As with all Jewish holidays, Hanukkah — the Festival of Lights — commemorates an important historical event. This event was the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt in 2nd century B.C. You can find out more details here.
You may not know this, but because the Festival of Lights was about there being enough oil left in the Temple to burn for eight days, it’s part of the Hanukkah ritual to eat foods fried in oil. So, our family fries the traditional latkes, which are potato pancakes, and we serve fried jelly doughnuts for dessert. (We get the doughnuts at Krispy Kreme).
We call our dinner the “Latke Party,” and it’s a whole family event. We start at about one in the afternoon when my daughters Alex and Sophia grate the potatoes and onions. My husband Garry makes sure the potatoes are well-drained because it’s his job to fry to latkes. He gets two big skillets and fries them for hours. His son Chad comes in from Houston and spends the afternoon supervising Garry’s work.
Around 5 p.m., the family begins to arrive. This year our family Hanukkah dinner will not be until December 19 (after Hanukkah is officially over), because we want our college-aged students home for this important family gathering.
All of our individual families bring our own menorah (the candelabra with nine candles — more details here.) We read the same Hanukkah story that Jackie and I read as children. Then one by one, we light about seven different menorahs, and our kitchen is suddenly filled with light and joy.
Then we feast on latkes and other traditional Hanukkah foods. We exchange gifts, but that is a small part of our Hanukkah ritual. It’s really about honoring our family history, enjoying culinary traditions and spending time together.
Hanukkah this year started at sundown on Wednesday, December 1. (All Jewish holidays start at sundown the night before.) Our family will gather around the menorah and light candles and say the traditional prayers each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.
No matter what your family tradition is at this time of year, I hope you will pause to honor those traditions and be grateful for those you have around you. It is a wonderful time to show appreciation and love!