Hanukkah, the alternative, calorie-packed Jewish alternative to Christmas in the Holy Land!
Each year, this amazing little holiday happens around the same time that Santa is scheduled to sleigh on over – this year (2017) Hanukkah will run from 13-20 December.
OK, so first of all, let’s get the spelling issue out of the way…with some writing it Hannukka, or Hanuka, you might even come across Chanukka because of the Hebrew letter Het at the beginning of the word. There are many variations. So, for simplicity’s sake, let’s go with the Festival of Lights. Or, even better, donut week.
Oh yes, you won’t believe how many donuts will be pushed in front of your face during Hannukah (and in the 2-3 weeks running up to the holiday). For those of you visiting Israel, this might be your only experience of the magical Festival of Lights; be prepared for an onslaught of jam-filled and chocolate-iced donuts at every corner! Your willpower will be sorely tested!
The week (which is actually 8 nights) is mostly celebrated by the lighting of candles each evening in the menorah, or Hannukiah, one light on each night of the holiday, progressing to eight on the final night. The lighting ceremony – though typically short, it which may be different in each household – is followed or preceded by the eating of donuts, many of which are homemade. Of course, with the huge range of donuts available commercially (if you have the chance, try the annual collection from local bakers Roladin – OMG!), some families treat themselves to a box of sinful, calorie-packed delights!
Buy why are donuts such a major staple of Hanukkah?
Well, tradition dictates the eating of foods fried or baked in oil (preferably olive oil), thanks to the original Hannukah miracle; the Maccabees successfully revolted over their evil Hellenistic emperor, and the legendary tale also includes the discovery of a small flask of pure olive oil used by the Jewish High Priest – this tiny amount of oil was supposed to last one day, but miraculously lasted eight.
So yes, you’ll not only find copious amounts of donuts (known as sufganyot in Hebrew), there are also lots of delicious potato pancakes (latkes), a true festive favorite. And to complete the Hanukkah story, don’t be surprised to see kids spinning the odd dreidel or two, especially when there are chocolate-flavored coins in the vicinity!
Children throughout Israel are on holiday during Hanukkah week, so bear that in mind when you’re expecting a quiet day at one of Israel’s premier attractions. In a similar fashion to pantomime season and Christmas shows in the Western world, there are lots of kids festivals and shows to see; the most popular show in Israel is the annual Festigal, which features many of Israel’s biggest stars.
If you’re looking for the ultimate Hannukah souvenir, head on over to the guys at this Judaica store, they have a bit of something for everyone!