It was the comedian Alan King who said, “All Jewish holidays are the same: They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat.”
Chanukah, which is Dec. 2-10 this year, is no different. It’s also one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated holidays.
The “they” who tried to kill us were the Syrian-Greeks under King Antiochus Epiphanes in 165 B.C.E. Judah Macabee and his four brothers led a relatively small ragtag army who overcame the bad guys and cleaned and rededicated their Temple which had been desecrated by those bad guys.
Enough oil to last only overnight lasted instead, eight days and nights, which is how long it took for more oil to be found. That’s why eight candles are lit, one each night, and why that – the victory and the oil lasting – is enough for Jewish people to call the Chanukah story a miracle.
Today, food processors are used to make the special potato latkes we eat. My son-in-law calls them “home fries,” and eats them with catsup instead of applesauce just to aggravate me.
But back in the day, if Gramma’s knuckles didn’t bleed while she prepared the potatoes, they just weren’t latkes.
The dreidel game is played to remember when Jewish people were forbidden to read the Torah. When the soldiers came upon them doing so, they pretended they were playing just a simple game of top-spinning.
Chanukah has nothing to do with Christmas, and just happens to usually fall in the same month. It’s not the “Jewish Christmas,” and the exchange of gifts isn’t Biblical. It’s purely traditional, probably stemming from a Jewish mother who didn’t want her kids to feel deprived because the neighbor kids were getting Christmas presents and hers weren’t.
Chanukah is about food and family and Adam Sandler’s Chanukah song and food and miracles and food and memories and then a little more food.
Chanukah is considered a “minor festival,” but is a miracle ever minor?
And as the adage says, “If there are 10 Jewish people, there will be 12 opinions,” the one thing nobody agrees on is how to spell Chanukah. Or Hannukah. Or Hanukah. Or Hanukkah.
However you spell it, Happy Chanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy International Civil Aviation Day, Happy Crossword Puzzle Day, and Happy everything else anyone celebrates in December.