Among Hanukkah activities the game of dreidel is a favorite
Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration that also is known as the Festival of Lights. It features a special eight days in the month of December and although the exact dates may vary it is known today as a festive occasion. The festival harkens back to occurrences that took place during an ancient time when Syria was ruled by King Antiochus, a ruler who was very aggressive toward the Jewish people of the region. Today’s Hanukkah activities and celebrations are marked with song and candles. Families get together to visit and rejoice. People give traditional gifts—baked goods such as chocolate babkas or cinnamon babkas—frequently sent in ensembles as beautifully appointed gift baskets whose contents are delicious and rich in heritage.
A festival with fearsome roots
But back in the old days, things were not so happy. King Antiochus wanted everyone to worship the pagan god Zeus and other pagan gods. In fact, he banned Jews from reading their holy writings, the Torah, and worshiping at their own temple in Jerusalem—a part of his kingdom. His cruelty and arrogance inflamed Jewish citizens and they went to battle against the king. The royal troops were great in number and the Jews’ numbers were few. Nevertheless, the Jewish fighters won a great victory and returned triumphantly to the temple. Hanukkah activities today reflect the joy.
The miracle of the lamp
Unfortunately, upon the Jews return to their place of worship, they found the temple a mess—things were overturned and broken, there was refuse and debris. It was a sad sight. As if with one mind, everyone got to work cleaning and fixing and renewing the holy place. An oil lamp was lit so the faithful could see well enough to do their chores and make things right. But the lamp had oil enough for only one night. The Hanukkah activities marking modern celebrations reflect the story.
Gift giving at Hanukkah
Jewish people today marvel at the miracle that led to the Festival of Lights: the lamp burned brightly for a full eight days and nights, instead of just one night. Gift giving is a favorite among Hanukkah activities. And among the gifts of nuts, dried fruit, babkas and challah breads so often shared today, one is sure to find among the top 10 kosher gifts one or more candles that signify the lamp that burned for eight days.
Celebrate with song
The Festival of Lights serves as a good occasion for the drawing together of family and friends for various Hanukkah activities. There is the time each night when a candle is lit in a special candle holder called a menorah, until eight candles are burning brightly. There is music and song. Entire families of widely varying ages enjoy indulging in an after-dinner round of sing-a-long Jewish favorites. Many of the lively arrangements honor Jewish tradition and lots of folks know them by heart.
• Havah Nagila
• Chos’n Kale Mazel Tov
• Tzena Tzena
• Shalom Rav
Why not play with a dreidel?
Dreidel is a traditional game for children that’s often played during Hanukkah—the Festival of Lights. A dreidel is a four-sided top that is spun by twirling a stem at the top. Each of the four sides is marked with a Hebrew letter. There is: nun, gimel, hay and shin. Those are the letters that begin the words which make up in Hebrew an important sentence: A great miracle happened there. In reading about Hanukkah facts, one learns much about the Jewish holiday.
The game had a secret purpose
The game even sufficed as a way to teach children their religion without arousing the suspicion of nearby soldiers or followers of King Antiochus. If any approached, the children seemed only to be playing an innocent game—and possibly diverting attention from families who were secretly studying Torah behind nearby closed doors.
Play begins by dispensing to each player an equal amount of small objects such as pennies, nuts, candies, raisins or other little items. Each person donates one or two pieces. Then, each person spins the dreidel. If it lands on one symbol, the person forfeits a turn. Another symbol awards the player all the pieces in the pile. A third indicates a person collects half the pieces. And a fourth calls for the player to add a piece to the pile. Play goes round and round until one has accumulated all the pieces. And had lots of fun.