Gina Vaynshteyn
November 27, 2013 10:00 am

Hanukkah is kind of mysterious. There are like, seven different ways to spell it and it revolves around miraculously burning oil. Even though I spent two years in Hebrew school when I was little (I wasn’t religious nor did I speak Hebrew, so it didn’t really work out), I still learn something new about Hanukkah every year. Such as:

1. Hanukkah commemorates a war fought in 2nd century BCE.

This war was fought from 167 to 160 BCE (7 years) because the Jewish rebel group (known as the Maccabees) wanted to restore their religion in Jerusalem after the Greek Antiochus forbid practicing the Jewish faith. Rabbi and group leader, Mattathias the Hasmonean sparked this revolt by refusing to worship the Greek gods. After he died, his son, Judas Maccabee led an army of rebels to victory over the Seleucid Empire in guerrilla warfare.

2. Hanukkah is also celebrated with donuts. And fried food.

Approximately 17.5 million donuts (sufganiyot) are consumed in Israel during Hanukkah. They’re supposed to symbolize the oil that the Maccabees used (and sustained for eight days instead of one!). This is also why latkes are traditionally fried in oil. So, forget about dieting during Hanukkah.

3. The Dreidel Game was totally a cover-up.

While the Greeks ruled Jerusalem, Jews weren’t allowed to study the Torah. They did it anyway, obviously. Whenever an official or solider would raid a house or school, the person reading the Torah would quickly take out a Dreidel and pretend to be playing instead of studying.

 4. Hanukkah wasn’t originally about the presents.

The holiday never really revolved around gift-giving; I’m pretty sure Hanukkah was Westernized after awhile due to its proximity to Christmas. However, Hanukkah WAS a time to celebrate children’s scholastic achievements and Torah studies. Kids were originally given gelt or chocolates, but this reward-system eventually turned into eight days of presents. Even now, adults tend to not exchange gifts during Hanukkah; it’s mainly a kid thing.

 5. It’s actually not the menorah we light on Hanukkah.

Even though we say menorah, we really mean hanukia. The word “menorah” actually refers to the original, seven-branched candelabrum housed in the Jewish Temple, and hanukiot are modeled after them.

Are there any cool facts that you’ve learned about Hanukkah?

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