Ever wondered that those pretty candles with nine branches are all about? We see them in some people’s windows and homes over the festive period. They are called Hanukkah Menorahs and are part of the Jewish festival ‘Hanukkah’. This year, the celebration will begin on Sunday 18th December and will finish on Monday 26th December. The exact dates on which Hanukkah is celebrated actually change every year. This is due to movement in the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah, which is also known as Chanukah and the Festival of Lights, is usually always celebrated for eight days between late November and the end of December.
The Story of Hanukkah is really quite a fascinating one. Like all good stories, there is good and there is evil. Let us set the scene…
Over 2,000 years ago, there lived a Greek king named Antiochus. He wickedly decided to invade the city of Jerusalem which had many Jewish inhabitants. The Greek king had a large army and he eventually became ruler of the land and its people. Not only that, he also demanded that the Jewish people cast-out their current beliefs and worship Greek gods instead. As part of his evil plan, Antiochus stormed the sacred Second Temple in Jerusalem where the Jewish people worshipped. The king ordered for statues to be destroyed and for holy objects to be removed. He even erected a large statue of the Greek god, Zeus, in their place. Sadly, one of the objects that was destroyed was a sacred lamp that was always kept burning in the temple using a very special oil. Thinking he was one step ahead, the king ordered the army to destroy every remaining bottle of this oil in an attempt to prevent the lamp ever burning again.
After his destruction of the temple, the king outlawed the practice of Judaism and all Jewish people were prevented from reading the Torah – their holy book. Things were getting pretty desperate. However, step forward Judah Maccabee – our hero. Judah and a few other Jewish people who were also rather fed up with the persecution of their faith, decided to stand up to Antiochus and his Greek army. The surname ‘Maccabee’ actually means ‘the hammer’ and very quickly, this group of rebels soon became known as the Maccabees. Even though they were small in number, they were determined to fight for their people’s freedom. After several years, the Maccabees eventually drove the Greek army away and Judah set about repairing and rededicating the Second Temple, and tidying up the destroyed city.
Judah really wanted to restore the sacred lamp that had once burnt so brightly. However, the king and his army had been very thorough. They had destroyed all the bottles of the special oil – or so it seemed. Judah could not accept this and he sent his people all over the city combing it for the sacred liquid. Incredibly, one small bottle was eventually found and taken back to the temple. Judah was disappointed in the size of the find though. It would take eight long days to produce more oil and this small bottle, would only allow the lamp to burn for one day. Things felt hopeless again…
Amazingly though – a miracle happened! The tiny amount of oil that was contained in the lamp burnt for an astonishing eight days and eight nights. To celebrate this incredible feat, many Jewish people light a candelabrum known as the ‘Hanukkah Menorah’ during the festival of Hanukkah that actually holds nine candles.
During the eight days of Hanukkah, a candle is lit each night to remember that the oil burnt for so long. The ninth candle, in the centre of the candelabrum, is called the ‘shammash’ and is the first candle to be lit. This main candle is used every night to light the other eight candles.
For many Jewish people, Hanukkah is an incredibly special time and many families enjoy eating traditional food. As a nod to the lamp that was kept burning for eight days, these foods usually are ones that can be cooked in oil. Potato latkes (a type of fried pancake made from grated potato) and sufganiyot (fried sweet dough that is filled with red jelly) are firm, family favourites. They sound pretty delicious to us! So, there we have it – not only do the nine-branched candles look exceptionally pretty, they also have an important religious meaning behind them. We do love a bit of culture, here at Naturally Sheepskins – so we hope you have enjoyed reading this blog. Happy Hanukkah!