Hanukkah: The meaning behind the festival of lights

A history of Hanukkah

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Not everyone celebrates Christmas.

In fact, there’s a healthy Jewish population in the area as well, and this time of year they celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights that dates back thousands of years.

This year, according to the Jewish calendar, it fell on Dec. 1. At Temple Emanuel, it means an evening filled with timeless traditions.

But what does Hanukkah symbolize? What does it really mean? Is it merely Christmas for the Jews?

Not at all.

It’s actually a celebration of two miracles. First, a small group of Macabeean Jews in 165 BCE, or before the common era, were untrained as they fought and beat the mighty Syrian Greeks who were denying them their religious freedom. The second miracle involves oil.

"In the holy temple in Jerusalem, they had the golden menorah that had to be lit every day and they used pure olive oil for the menorah,” said Rabbi Avi Perets with Temple Emanuel. “And according to the story, a jar of oil that normally lasts for one day lasted for eight days. That’s why we celebrate Hanukkah for eight days.”

It’s two miracles Jews around the world celebrate each year.

Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, the Shamash, or candle lighter, ignites an additional candle on the menorah. Each night, a gift or in some cases gifts, are opened.

Fast forward to the eighth and final night of Hanukkah and the Reyder family is ready for this year’s last hurrah. The menorah is lit after sundown one final time as the blessings are said. The table is filled with the typical fare - potato pancakes or latkes and jelly-filled doughnuts are perhaps the most popular.

Still, other foods fried in oil are eaten as well. That food is cooked in the oil to symbolize the miracle some 2,000 years ago.

After dinner, the fun begins. The game of dreidl is a popular one. In it, a top spins and how it lands determines the winner.

There’s no doubt it’s the most festive of the Jewish Holidays, but it’s important to remember the serious incidents that brought it to be.

“And I’d like my children to take away from Hanukkah that this is our holiday,” said Myrtle Beach resident Eli Reyder. "This is the Jewish people. This is what we celebrate and whatever happens and whatever situation you may be in you should stay steadfast to your principles. Be a light of goodness and kindness to your neighbors, to your community and everyone around you, and follow the ways of our Torah and our traditions. "

Centuries later, the tradition continues to burn brightly in the minds of many. The miracle is remembered and the light continues to shine in the homes of Jews in the Grand Strand, the Pee Dee and around the world.

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