Sunset on Nov. 28 marks the beginning of Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah), the 8-day wintertime festival of lights, celebrated with a nightly lighting of a candle of a menorah, special prayers and food.
The Hebrew word Hanukkah translates to "dedication," as the holiday commemorates the reclaiming rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by Jews who had fought to maintain their culture and beliefs against much larger military forces.
In the tradition, the story of Hanukkah recounts that when they sought to light the temple's menorah, a seven-branched candelabrum, there was only a small supply of oil that had not been contaminated of its ritual purity. The story recounts that the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, long enough until new oil could be prepared under ritual purity.
In addition to the lighting of the menorah at homes, in synagogues and in public spaces, a special prayer called Hallel is recited each day, with a statement (V'Al HaNissim) incorporated into daily prayer to offer praise and thanksgiving to G-d or “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few ... the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
Because the miracle of Hanukkah involved oil, it's tradition to eat foods fried in oil, such as the quintessential potato latke and the jelly-filled sufganya.
Other customs include the playing of the four-sided spinning dreidel, and Hanukkah gelt, given to children to reward positive behavior and devotion to the Torah - while giving children the chance (and instilling a valuable lesson) of giving to charity.
Much, much more information about traditions and the spiritual meaning of the holiday is available via this web link to Chabad.org.
Hanukkah in the American Experience
In the cultural diversity that is the United States, culturally in America each holiday has its related colors - red, white and blue for Independence Day, orange and brown for Thanksgiving, and the like.
For Jewish Americans, the colors related to Hanukkah are blue and white, sometimes with silver. Some experts say that the color choice has little to do with the religious meaning, and more to do with post-World War II American culture.
According to Dianne Ashton, a professor of religion at Rowan University, with pressure put on Jewish children to participate in celebrating Christmas pageantry common in public schools, parents felt pressured to do something to make children to feel proud of their religious and cultural tradition when they weren't celebrating Christmas.
Eventually, Hanukkah - an observance not biblically mandated or in as high of importance as Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur - became a "parallel holiday," widely observed as a child-friendly occasion.
American stationery and greeting card companies saw an opportunity. And just as they used red and green to market Christmas-related goods as immediately recognizable, companies adapted blue and white.
There's no one definitive, precise reason as this is an American phenomenon, but one of the most common reasons cited by some cultural historians is tied to the colors of the flag of the state of Israel - which became a state in 1948, around the time that the post-World War II American phenomenon of Hanukkah as a "parallel holiday" began.
Blue and white are also theologically important in Judaism. The Jewish prayer shawl - the tallit - is made from a white fabric with black stripes and one blue string. Blue is also mentioned extensively throughout other religious texts in Judaism.
Religious Life Resources at Georgia State
- Chabad (Georgia Tech and Georgia State)
- Religious Life at Georgia State
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Information adapted from www.chabad.org, the 2021-22 Cultural Awareness Guide of Georgia State's Cultures, Communities and Inclusion program (Dean of Students), Time Magazine, Religious Observances Listings and Calendars at the Georgia State DEI website
- Jeremy Craig, Communications Manager for the DEI Website/Office of the Provost