Yesterday after sundown, thousands of people gathered at New York City's Grand Army Plaza to witness the lighting of the world's largest menorah. The 32-foot high, 4,000 pound gold-colored steel candelabrum that had to be lit with the help of a cherry picker, marked the beginning of Hanukkah, the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights.
Similar to other religious celebrations, the dates of this important holiday is determined by the Hebrew calendar and therefore, varies annually. This year, the 25th day of the month of Kislev, which is when the festivities begin, happened to fall on December 8th, 2012.
During this joyful eight-day period, families come together to seek out blessings, eat delicious meals and play games. For some lucky kids it also means receiving a gift every night for eight consecutive days!
The tradition behind this all-important Jewish holiday dates back 2,200 years, when a Greek king tried to impose his culture on the people in his territory, despite the fact that most of them practiced the Jewish religion. The people rebelled and fought for three years before reclaiming the temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah. Inside the temple, they discovered a small amount of oil, which they estimated would keep the temple light burning for one day. To their surprise, the oil lasted for eight days, which is why, the holiday is celebrated for that length of time.
Thanks to the legend, the most important ritual of the holiday is the lighting of the menorah, a holder that fits nine candles. Eight candles are lit one at a time to mark each day of the festival. The ninth, known as the Shamash (servant), is used to light the others. Over the years, menorahs have become increasingly elaborate and unique. One of the most unusual ones on display this year is Souther California's Surfboard Menorah. The brainchild of the Chabad Jewish Center of Laguna Beach it sits on the Main Beach, which as you may have guessed by now, is a popular surfing destination.
While families entertain themselves in many ways, the most traditional and popular game played is using a four-sided spinning top known as the Dreidel. The mult-player game, entails each participant to begin with an equal number of game pieces, which could be anything from candy to money. Depending on their spinning prowess they can either lose a few or all their pieces to a mutual pot, or, hit the jackpot and earn everything that has been accumulated.
As for the favorite food? While people in the USA prefer Latkes, in Israel, the birthplace of the festival, the favorite food for this traditional event is Sufganiyot, a jelly donut cooked in oil. All in all, it is a fun-filled eight days, just like festivals should be. Happy Hanukkah to all of you!
Resources: about.com, wikipedia.org