Guest Opinion: True Meaning of Chanukah


Goldberg family celebrates Chanukah.

Chanukah as a holiday has become very commercialized and has even been named the “Jewish Christmas” to some. Though it does tend to fall on or around Christmas, its significance is very different. When translated to English, Chanukah means “dedication.” This is because we dedicate our festival to the miracle that lasted eight days. 

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights: eight days of celebration, but why? 

Way back in the second century B.C.E., the Maccabees led a revolt against the Greek-Syrian army. From this revolt came the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem and the cities surrounding it. Once the war was won, the Maccabees wanted to light a Menorah – a seven branched candelabra – not only for heat and light, but to symbolize their victory. However, they were only able to find one small jar of oil. The next jars of oil were on their way, but it would take eight days for them to be delivered. They had to light the Menorah and hope for the best.

Much to their surprise, the oil lasted for all eight days and nights until the new oil had arrived. Thus, the miracle of Chanukah. From this miracle, the Chanukiah – a nine branched candelabra – gained significance. 

Why are there nine spots when Chanukah only lasts for eight nights? This is because there is a candle to represent each night as well as the Shammash, the candle that would be used to light all the others. No night has any more importance over another, so for a Chanukiah to be considered Kosher (in ordinance with the Jewish faith), all eight candles must be level with the Shammash. So, instead of lighting a Menorah on Chanukah, we light the Chanukiah.

Chanukah to me has become a nice family tradition. My family lights the candles and says our prayers. We eat our food cooked in oil to symbolize the oil that lasted eight nights. We exchange gifts and laugh as we see it all wrapped in the only wrapping paper we can find: red and green stripes, snowmen and happy birthday paper, to name a few. It may not be a major holiday, but it has become a major tradition. 

Happy belated Chanukah to those who celebrate, and happy holidays to all.