Do you know Chanukah?

Hannah Lee

Illustration by Mariana Martins
Illustration by Mariana Martins

Whether you know Chanukah as Hanukah, Chanukkah or Hanukkah, this holiday is all about lighting a candle every night, giving gifts and singing the Dreidel song — which we all know is made out of clay. Or is it? Okay, yes it is, but there is much more to it than that.

So here is the non-Jewish guide to Chanukah.

The food

I know you’ve heard of latkes (potato pancakes), but do you know that one of the best foods to eat during this time are donuts? Yes, donuts (also known as sufganiyot) are one of the staple foods in Chanukah. Specifically jelly donuts. Why? Well the donuts are fried, and fried foods are typically eaten to remember the miracle of the lasting oil — the oil in the Temple lasted eight days when it was supposed to last one. Plus, they’re delicious so why not?

Applesauce or sour cream? This has been the greatest debate since butter or cream cheese on bagels. Do you have to choose? Some families are split down the middle — half love applesauce and half love sour cream. Some families are only sour cream and some only applesauce. The one who likes them both inevitably end up playing the Greek in the yearly Chanukah reenactment of the Maccabees, and you don’t want to be the one playing the Greek.

Another Jewish tradition, although not so much a Chanukah tradition, is Chinese food for dinner Dec. 25. It’s because Chinese buffets and movie theaters are often the only two things open on Christmas.

The entertainment

Here is where the dreidel comes in. It’s a game for children where you bet on chocolate coins (called gelt). The letters on the dreidel are nun, gimel, hei, and shin. Traditionally, they represent the saying that “a great miracle happened there.” However, in the game itself, they each represent an action. Why is a betting game involved with Chanukah? Why not?

You think only having fifteen Christmas songs is terrible? Try having only three Chanukah songs.  The dreidel song, the traditional Hebrew song Ma’oz Tzur, and the Adam Sandler song are really the the only options in a Jewish house come Chanukah. That’s it. That’s why you might not hear Chanukah music over the radio… ever. Lucky you.

The timing

Chanukah doesn’t come at the same time every year. This year Chanukah begins on December 24, but three years ago it was during Thanksgiving (also known as Thanksgivukkah). This is because the Hebrew calendar is based off a lunar cycle instead of the traditional solar cycle. Which means Chanukah is not during Christmas every year. It could be Chanukah and you might not know it yet.

The unity

The one tradition that keeps Jews together during this holiday is the lighting the menora, also known as a chanukiah. Every night for eight nights, Jews all over the world light the chanukiah outside or right by the windowsill. Coming together during Chanukah is not only something special, but every year new experiences are made.

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