Jewish community celebrating Hanukkah

Jewish community celebrating Hanukkah

Jewish communities started celebrating Hanukkah this weekend. The Jewish festival of light, which lasts eight nights, involves lighting candles on a menorah, eating fried foods and playing with spinning tops called dreidels.

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the story of the Maccabees - Jews who rebelled against King Antiochus, the Seleucid ruler of Judea and Samaria.

A multi-branched candelabra known as a menorah was lit and despite the Maccabees only finding a small drop of oil, enough to burn for one day, the oil ended up lasting for eight nights - enough time for more oil to be resupplied.

The "festival of light" usually falls in December, but as it follows the Jewish lunisolar calendar, it can fall in late November or coincide with Christmas.

The celebration takes place in the longest and darkest month of the year. To mark the miracle, Hanukkah lasts for eight days, starting on the 25th of Kislev, four days before the new moon - the darkest night of the month.

This year, the evening of Sunday, December 18 marks the start of Hanukkah. The eight-day celebration will end on the evening of Monday, December 26.

The traditional celebrations of the Jewish wintertime ‘festival of lights’ involves a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and foods fried in oil.

One extra candle is lit each night until all eight are burning on the final night.

Each candle on the nine-branch candelabra, which is called the hanukkiah , is lit by the shamash - a special candle which sits a higher or lower than the rest.

Children play with dreidels - square spinning tops - marked with one of four Hebrew letters on each side which stand for “a great miracle happened there”.

The dreidel gambling game stems from the Greek-Syrian rule when Jews were prevented from studying the Torah, the Hebrew bible, and so whenever a soldier walked by, they would play with dreidels to hide their learning.

As the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil - traditionally in Europe this includes potato latkes and jam-filled doughnuts.