Eight Nights of Light


Clarissa Allison

The branched menorah is a historical symbol of Hanukkah

Sharon Sun, Photojournalist

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, with its roots tracing back to the second century BCE. The Israeli people were ruled by the Syrian-Greeks, who attempted to force their Greek beliefs in place of the Israeli belief in God. Resisting Greek control, a small band of Jewish faithful drove the Syrian-Greeks from the land and reclaimed Jerusalem and its Holy Temple, which they dedicated to the service of God.


The Holy Temple held a Menorah, which is the signature branched candle holder often seen as the symbol of Hanukkah. Seeking to light the candle, the Jews looked for oil, but only found a single pot of olive oil that had not been contaminated by the Syrian-Greeks. This one-day supply of oil, which was used to light the Menorah, miraculously managed to last for eight days until a spiritually pure supply of oil could be procured by the Jews. The belief carries on today in modern celebrations. Mrs. Shube (Staff), who celebrates Hanukkah with her family, says that “symbolically, Hanukkah represents hope and faith providing people with the strength to persevere beyond their normal limitations.” Thus, the celebration of Hanukkah serves to commemorate the miracles of God’s work for the faithful. 


Being highly regarded as the main symbol of Hanukkah, the special Menorah also is a key figure within the tradition. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, representative of the nine branches on the holder. Each night, a candle on one branch is lit by the shamash (Hebrew for “attendant”), which is also used to light every other candle on the Menorah. Before the candle is lit each night, special blessings are recited beforehand, and traditional songs are sung afterward. 


Traditional food during Hanukkah is generally fried with oil, based on the miracle of Jerusalem. A classic is the fried potato latke, which is usually garnished with other condiments. A children’s favorite during Hanukkah, chocolate gelt is a foil-covered sweet for Jewish children. Chocolate gelt was based off of Hanukkah gelt, which are actually gifts of money given as rewards for positive behavior and religious devotion. 


Money in Hanukkah was not only used in gelt, but was also used for betting in dreidel games. Dreidels were the symbolic four-sided tops printed with Hebrew letters relating to the miracle of Jerusalem, and games were usually won or lost according to the side a dreidel fell on.


The games, food, and all of the spiritual fervor continue until the eighth night of Hanukkah, in which all the candles are lit and nine flames sit atop the Menorah.