This column was first published in December, 2011. We’ve always gotten positive feedback for it and enjoy re-publishing it each year. Nothing is altered below except the opening sentence for obvious reasons.
The “Festival of Lights,” Chanukah, begins this evening, November 27th at sundown. No doubt, many non-Jews are unfamiliar with the holiday, its origins and traditions. In the spirit of the numerous books out these days that explain seemingly complicated things in a simple fashion, we offer this tongue in cheek, “A Gentile’s Guide to Chanukah.”
Q. Is Chanukah is just a holiday that Jewish people came up with so they could have a similar December holiday?
A. NO. The historical events that Chanukah commemorate actually took place 165 before Jesus was even born. The evil Greek-Syrian King Antiochus conquered the land of Israel, put up a really yucky statue of himself in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and tried to put Judaism out of business. The Jews responded as they always have to such efforts by resisting, fighting, eventually winning and creating a new holiday complete with yummy foods. The re-dedication celebration at the Temple went on for 8 days.
In fact, I’m willing to bet that Joseph and Mary were unable to find a room in Bethlehem because it was during Chanukah. All the out-of-town parents and grandparents who didn’t want to impose on their children so they booked all the Inn rooms months in advance. And all those gifts the baby Jesus received? Chanukah gifts of course!
Q. What’s with those greasy fried potatoes Jewish people eat on Chanukah?
A. Hey, if prepared correctly, latkes are not greasy and are worth every single indigestible calorie! Because of the parable of a single flask of olive oil miraculously burning in the rededicated Temple for 8 days, its customary to eat foods cooked in oil on Chanukah. In addition to potato latkes, many Jewish people, especially Israelis have the practice of eating sufganiyot, donuts.
Q. Does spinning the Chanukah Dreidel lead to compulsive gambling?
A. God forbid! The Dreidel is a four-sided top that has a different Hebrew letter on each side: Shin, nun, gimmel and hey. The four letters spell out the Hebrew phrase: Nas gadol haya sham: A great miracle happened then.
Land on the nun, do nothing
Land on the gimmel, you win the whole pot
Land on the hey and you can collect have the pot