Please don’t die of shock. This little Christian blogger is forfeiting her annual opportunity to write a four-week Christmas series in favor of acknowledging the eight days of Hanukkah. I’ve found no better way to learn something new than to write about it. For starters, how to spell it. One n, two k’s. And if you really want to be authentic, start it with a C, drop one k (Chanukah) and pronounce it like you’re clearing phlegm.
Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah doesn’t always fall on the same day of our Gregorian calendar. That’s because it is always on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. In 2023, it will begin at sundown on Thursday, December 7 and last until sundown on Friday, December 15.
The word Hanukkah is Hebrew for “dedication,” and it is the Jewish Festival of Lights. Although not considered a major holiday, it’s probably the one we hear most about. It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army, and the subsequent miracle of rededicating the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and restoring its menorah, or lamp.
The miracle of Hanukkah is that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day. Yet it lasted for eight full days, the length of time needed for the ceremonial cleansing.
To commemorate this, celebrants begin by lighting one candle in their menorah. The menorah consists of nine candle holders, one for each night of Hanukkah and one to hold the Shamash (literally, “helper,” the candle used to light the others.) Each night, they light one additional candle. Parties, gifts, special foods, attending religious services, music, and games all play into the traditional celebrations.
Do you know how to play Dreidel?
Sometimes spelled dreydel, pronounced DRAY-dull, a dreidel is a four-sided, spinning top. On its four sides appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet: Nun, Gimmel, Hey, and Shin. Together these letters translate to “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the shin is replaced with a peh, so the letters spell out Nes Gadol Hayah Po, or “a great miracle happened HERE.”
To play, you’ll need: two or more players, the dreidel, 10-15 pieces to use as game tokens (players traditionally use foil-covered chocolate coins called gelt—Hebrew for money—but you could use any small items.)
How to play:
1. Divide the game pieces equally between all the players.
2. Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel. The one with the highest spin has the first turn. (nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) If there’s a tie, those who tied spin again.
3. Everyone puts one game piece into the middle (the “pot”).
4. Spin the dreidel once. Depending on the side it lands on, you give or get game pieces from the pot, as follows:
· Shin: put one more token in the pot
· Nun: do nothing
· Gimmel: take all tokens from the pot
· Hay: take half of all tokens from the pot. In case of an odd number of tokens, round up.
5. Pass the dreidel on to the next player in a clockwise direction.
6. Keep playing until someone wins by collecting all the tokens.
7. If you run out of tokens, you are either out or you may ask another player for a loan.
Playing Dreidel is a wonderful way for children to learn part of the Hebrew alphabet and even a little math while having fun. I can’t help picturing Jesus as a little boy playing this game with his cousins, friends, and younger siblings. In John 10:22, he visits Jerusalem for this “Festival of Dedication.”
Hanukkah reminds us that it’s up to each of us to be a light in the darkness, and that even a little light can go a long way. Next week, I’ll tell you some of the traditional Hanukkah foods and share a recipe.