The holidays are such a wonderful time of year, and one of our favorite parts is that each family has traditions of their own that are completely different than others. While December might be all about Christmas presents Christmas trees and Christmas parties to some… others might be focusing on Menoras, dreidels and latkes. Yep, we’re talking Hanukkah today!

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, an eight day Jewish holiday commemorating the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. The holiday is observed for eight nights and days, which may occur from anytime through late November to late December depending on the Hebrew Calendar. The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights on a unique nine-branched menorah, adding one additional light on each night of the holiday, resulting in 8 on the final night. Hanukkah activities include playing dreidel and eating foods such as sufganiyot (doughnuts), challah, kugel, brisket, and latkes (a potato pancake).

Hanukkah is all about God’s protection of the Israelites, and the miracles that occurred on that day. History buffs, listen up: The holiday celebrates the triumph of faith and courage over the military, when a band of Israelites stood up for their right to be Jewish. They were prohibited under penalty of death from studying their sacred texts, and were ordered to worship other Gods. The Maccabees, a group of faithful Israelites, rose up and defeated the invaders and reclaimed the temple. As a result, a flame was lit in the Temple’s great menorah. But the sacred olive oil needed to burn in the lamp stand took 8 days to press and purify, the Jews had only enough to light the candle for one day, but decided to light the candle anyway. Then, a miracle occurred; the jug of oil refilled itself each day, for 7 days. Since then, Hanukkah has been celebrated for 8 days to recall the miracle when the menorah burned for 8 days at the temple.

On the first night, a blessing is recited and the first candle is lit as well as the middle candle, or the Shamash. (The menorah is usually lit at or right after sunset) On the second night, the Shamash plus two candles are lit and so on until the eighth night, when all nine branches contain lit candles. Fun fact: Traditionally, the lighted menorah is placed near a window, so that everyone passing by can remember the miracle of Hanukkah.

Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah, beginning at sunset. Thousands of families will light the first candle on the menorah to celebrate their ancestor’s bravery. So as some of us are awaiting December 25th, we’re also aware of other religious holidays and what they mean. So, Happy Hanukkah! We’ll be dreaming of latkes, loukoumades, challah and so many more goodies!