Long shine the menorah

Long shine the menorah

Jews celebrate Hanukkah with jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes

Lighten up, people! Today is this year's first day of the Jewish Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah. Every year in November or December, the festival is celebrated for eight days and nights in a row.

The festival begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month in the Jewish Calendar. As the Jewish calendar is lunar-based, Hanukkah falls on different days from year to year in the western calendar.

In Hebrew, the word "Hanukkah" means "dedication". The festival celebrates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, after Syrian-Greek soldiers seized and defiled the Jewish holy place in BC168. The Jews rose up in rebellion and managed to recapture their temple.

To celebrate, they decided to light up a menorah, a special Jewish candle-holder. Yet they realised that only a little purified oil had survived the battle. They lit the oil anyway and miraculously, the menorah stayed alight for eight days.

After more than 2,000 years, Jews worldwide continue to celebrate this ancient miracle in their long-lost Temple. Every night during Hanukkah families gather to light a new candle on an nine-branched candelabrum - one for each day of Hanukkah lit from a ninth "helper" candle.

As Jews light a new candle on the menorah, they recount the ancient story of Hanukkah, explained Talia Mervis, a 14-year-old Grade Nine student at the Carmel School Association's Elsa High School.

She added that because the festival celebrates the miracle of oil, fried foods are popular during the festival, especially latkes (pancakes made of potatoes and onions) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts).

Another popular Hanukkah activity is the spinning of the dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, which has a different Hebrew letter on each side. Players spin the dreidel and bet on which Hebrew letter will be shown when it stops.

"It's great fun," Talia said. Yet the game is played not just for fun but to remind players of "a great miracle that happened at the Temple in Jerusalem", she added.

David Caron, 15, a Grade 10 student from Elsa High School, Southeast Asia's first Jewish high school which opened in Hong Kong last year, said: "Jews have preserved their traditions for thousands of years and parents still teach their children about Hanukkah from a young age."

Because Hanukkah falls close to Christmas on the calendar, the Jewish festival has adopted some similar features, such as giving presents to children. In many families, children get a gift for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. In Israel, students also enjoy an eight-day holiday.

In Hong Kong, Jewish students won't be so lucky. Yet Elsa High will roll out several events and surprises for its celebrating students. "We've prepared special treats and little gifts for the students," said Sarelli Vincent, a teacher at the school. "There will be lessons about Hanukkah as well."

Other Jewish organisations in Hong Kong will also be holding Hanukkah celebrations. The United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong will organise several family-oriented activities. It's time to get those menorahs ready, everyone.

Now that you know more about the festival, Happy Hanukkah!

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