Top 8 Reasons Hanukkah is Special

Saturday at sunset marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the annual eight-day Festival of Lights celebrated by Jews worldwide.

As is the case with other religious holidays, Hanukkah is steeped in tradition. It is also a joyous occasion that brings families and friends together.

Part of what makes this holiday so special is that Hanukkah is unique on so many levels. Here are eight of those reasons.

1. The miraculous oil -- One version of the story behind the holiday rests on the belief that during ancient times there was a circumstance when ritual olive oil that was supposed to last for only one day miraculously burned for eight days. Historians say this occurred after Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee fought back the conquering Seleucid Empire, restoring the ability of fellow Jews to practice their faith in their temple in Jerusalem. As the story goes, it was initially thought that there was only enough oil to light the temple menorah for one day but the flames lasted for eight days, enough time to secure a fresh supply of oil for the temple.

2. Menorah -- This enduring symbol of Judaism holds the candles that are used to commemorate the holiday. Many menorahs are ornate works of art. Others are simplistic. Israel uses an emblem that features an ancient, seven-stem menorah surrounded by olive branches.

Modern menorahs contain nine stems, including one for the shamash, the candle typically used to light the other candles.

3. Daily candlelight ceremony -- An eight-day holiday translates to eight days of celebration in many traditional Jewish households. Typically, the first candle is lit on day one, two are lit on day two and so forth until all the candles are flickering. Song, prayer and gift-giving are all part of the daily ritual.

4. Latkes -- Otherwise known as potato pancakes, these oily, greasy taste treats are heavily consumed during the holiday. They can be eaten plain or with a little extra something on the side, such as apple sauce or sour cream. Either way, diets go out the window.

5. Gelt -- One of the traditional gifts given to children is Hanukkah gelt, or money. Sometimes real money is involved. Other times, though, children are handed chocolate coins wrapped in foil.

Before the night is over there is little chance any of the chocolate survives.

6. Dreidel -- Another Hanukkah tradition is a game involving the spinning of the dreidel, a top with Hebrew letters on all four of its sides. The website Myjewishlearning.com states that each player pays an ante into the communal pot. Players who spin the letter Nun gain nothing but win half the pot with a Hey and all the pot with a Gimmel. Players who spin a Shin, though, must add to the pot.

7. Ways to spell Hanukkah -- The proper way to spell this holiday is still open to debate. Others have used Hanukah, Hannukah, Chanukah or Chanukkah. It's a proof reader's nightmare.

8. Shifting dates -- Unlike Christmas, the dates for Hanukkah change from year to year because it is based on the Hebrew calendar. According to the website Chabad.org, Hanukkah always starts on the Hebrew date 25 Kislev. That means Hanukkah will run this year through Dec. 16, and will go from Nov. 27 to Dec. 5 in 2013, Dec. 16 to 24 in 2014 and Dec. 6 to 14 in 2015.


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