Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish festival of lights, starts December 12 this year. Since Hanukkah has so many fascinating connections to fire – and at Old World Stoneworks, fire is our specialty – this week we’ll delve into this cultural and religious celebration.
What is Hanukkah?
Also spelled “Chanukah” or “Hanukah,” the word is Hebrew for “dedication.” The tradition dates back to the Holy Land in the second century B.C. A Syrian-Greek culture called the Seleucids tried to force Israelites to embrace Greek beliefs. But a small group of Jews were able to defeat the Seleucids, drive them out, and rededicate their holy temple in Jerusalem.
The magical part of the story comes next: The Jews needed to relight the temple’s seven-branched candelabrum, called a menorah. But all they had was one pot of oil, enough to last a single day. Once they got the menorah lit, it miraculously burned for eight days, until a new supply of oil was ready. Hanukkah commemorates this victory over the Seleucids and the miracle of the oil and fire.
Modern menorahs have nine branches, one for each of the eight holy nights from the temple miracle, and one to hold the helper candle which lights the others. Unlike ancient times when the oil was lit afire, modern candles are much safer.
Menorahs are the most recognizable symbol of Hanukkah, and the subject of songs like “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah,” a catchy tune.
A Home Celebration
Hanukkah is mostly celebrated at home, rather than at a synagogue. Families light one candle per night at sundown, starting on the right side of the menorah. On each following night, they add another candle. Usually, the menorah is placed by a window so that passers-by may enjoy the lights.
Every night of Hanukkah, family members recite or chant two blessings, one for the candles and one as gratitude for the long-ago miracle of deliverance. As the families say blessings over the candles, the celebration promotes family togetherness.
Hanukkah Fire Safety
Hanukkah poses two main fire risks – fires started by the menorah, and by traditional fried foods such as potato pancakes, called latkes. Both candles and hot oil call for extra vigilance. If you are celebrating Hanukkah, here are a few safety tips:
- Test your smoke detectors and make sure your batteries are still working properly.
- Put your menorah on a level, non-flammable surface away from draperies.
- Keep a fire extinguisher nearby.
- Don’t leave your menorah unattended, especially if you have curious small children or leaping cats in your household.
- Never throw water on a grease fire.
As we get further into December, we want to wish all our customers a happy holiday season. And if we can make any holiday dreams come true – perhaps a new mantel or range hood? – send us an email or give us a call today.
[i] “Sivivon” is also known as a dreidel, or spinning top.