Sunday, Dec. 18, marks the official first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, following a successful revolt of Jewish people against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Second Century B.C.E.
When the small band of Jewish people, led by Judah the Maccabee, re-entered their temple after defeating the large and intimidating Greek-Syrian army, they only had a single day’s oil supply to light the temple lamps with. But that oil supply miraculously lasted eight days.
The key ceremony at the center of Hanukkah is lighting a menorah. Each night, another candle gets lit until all eight candles, plus the ninth 'helper candle,' glow on windowsills and mantels all over Brooklyn and the world.
People celebrate Hanukkah by eating foods fried in oil, like potato pancakes and doughnuts, to honor the miracle of the outlasting oil in the temple lamp and the perseverance of the Jewish people in the face of persecution. It is customary for families to get together, sing songs and give gifts to loved ones.
The custom of playing dreidel (spinning tops) on Hanukkah is based on a story that, during the time of the Maccabees, when Jewish children were forbidden from practicing and studying their religion, they would defy the decree and study anyway. When a Greek official would come close, they would put away their books and take out spinning tops, claiming they were only playing games.
The appropriate Hebrew greeting during Hanukkah is “Chag Sameach” (pronounced KHAHG sah-MEHY-ahkh), which means “happy holidays.”
The holiday will run this year through Dec. 27.