ELLSWORTH — Jews around the world began their celebration of the eight days of Hanukkah this past weekend, lighting the first candle in the eight-branched candelabra known as menorah at sundown on Sunday, Dec. 2.
An additional candle is lit at sundown on each of the next seven days. The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left (just as Hebrew is written from right to left), but are lit from left to right. The shammash candle is always the first one lit, and is used to light the others, starting with the left-most one, until the menorah blazes with all nine candles on the holiday’s final evening, Sunday, Dec. 9, this year. The holiday ends at sundown on Monday, Dec. 10.
The date on which Hanukkah begins each year is determined by the Hebrew calendar — reflecting a 12-month lunar year that is 11 days shorter than the solar year on which the common civil, or Gregorian, calendar is based.
Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew and is also known as the Festival of Lights, commemorates two great events: the victory of the a tiny band of faithful Jewish rebels led by Judah the Maccabee over the occupying armies of the Syrian tyrant king Antiochus in 165 BCE; and, more importantly, the subsequent liberation and rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem, which the Syrians had turned into a pagan shrine.
After the Jews cleansed the Temple and rededicated it to their God, they found only enough uncontaminated ritual olive oil to light the Temple’s menorah for one day, yet it burned for eight days — the time needed to secure a new supply of pure oil.
The modern home celebration of Hanukkah centers around the lighting candles in the menorah, eating foods cooked in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts), singing special holiday songs and playing traditional games such as spinning the dreidle, a four-sided spinning top, to gamble for sweets or coins.