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Hanukkah begins at sundown

Published December 20. 2011 05:01PM

For Jews around the world, the eight-day celebration of Hanukkah begins this evening at sundown.

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a celebration of joy. All signs of sadness are avoided and there is to be no fasting.

Typical celebrations include the giving of gifts on each day of Hanukkah. Traditional foods served during the season include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), which are fried in oil.

The word Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews regained the city from the Syrians in 165 B.C. While the Syrians had control of the Holy City, Jewish history says they entered the Temple the Jews had built, destroyed the Torah, sacrificed swine on the Holy Alter and erected idols.

After the Jews regained control of Jerusalem, they cleaned the temple and restored it to its former beauty. A new Holy Alter was built, and on the 25th day of Kislev, the temple was rededicated.

As part of the rededication, the Jews wished to light the temple Menorah, or candelabrum, but there was only enough oil for one night, and it would take eight days to procure more oil. Miraculously, the supply lasted the entire eight days, which is how the tradition of the Menorah originated.

The Menorah has grown to be a symbol of light and truth and the people's love of liberty. Today it is an emblem of the nation of Israel.

A highlight of the celebration of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah. On the first night, a single candle is lit. On the second night, two candles are lit, and so on for eight nights.

Another tradition of the Festival of Lights is to give Hanukkah "gelt" (money) to children. The purpose is to teach them the meaning of charity, but it is also part of the fun of the holiday.

Also customary during Hanukkah is the dreidel, a spinning top. Games associated with the dreidel are considered a salute to ancient Jewish heroes.

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