Tonight marks the start of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, a celebration that is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’ or the ‘Feast of Dedication’, which lasts for eight days and eight nights.
The festival derives from the 2nd century when the Macabees recaptured the Holy Temple from the Greeks in Jerusalem. The first thing that they did in celebration was to light the golden menorah (candelabra). Even though they only found one jar of oil to burn, it burned miraculously for eight days. Still today, many Jews around the world will light a menorah for eight days during Hanukkah to recollect this miracle.
Throughout Hanukkah, each menorah burns through 44 candles, adding one candle each night starting from the right and going to the left. On the final night, all of the candles (including the middle candle which is named the ‘shamash’) are lit up. In addition to this, sufganiyot (small oily doughnuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) are enjoyed throughout the festival also commemorating the miracle of the oil.
Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas and there is also no significance to giving presents during the festival, however it is custom to give money to children as an incentive to learn the Torah at this time (Hanukkah is a word that means ‘dedication’ and also comes from the Hebrew word ‘hinuch’ meaning education).