Tonight at sundown, the 8 day festival of Hanukkah begins. The unfortunate thing about Hanukkah is that it falls near the Christmas holiday on the calendar, so poor Hanukkah has an inferiority complex, at least in the US.
It's neither a traditional 'holy day', nor is it the commercial blockbuster that merchandising has turned Christmas into. So it's a little bit of an orphan holiday in my mind.
The short version of Hanukkah's history: In 168 BCE, the Jewish temple in Jerusalem was seized by Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of Zeus. 3 years later, it was reclaimed by a small band/family of Jews (the Macabees) and re-dedicated for Jewish worship. The reason Hanukkah lasts 8 days is that when the temple was reclaimed, there was only enough purified oil to light the eternal flame for a single day, but the oil lasted 8 days, long enough for a new supply to arrive.
The longer version can be found here.
We don't do a big present deal for Hanukkah. Generally, our tradition is to give little token gifts each night, and one more hefty gift on the last night. Now that the kids are older, we mostly just give one another books or DVDs that we can share as a family.
But we do light the candles each night, and it's a great excuse to eat donuts. (Food made in oil. . . )
There is one thing I would love for Hanukkah. But it's not something anyone can buy for me. But if there was such a thing as "Hanukkah Harry", I would love it if he would bring me a publisher for Hanukkah.
We try and keep Christmas gifts simple and save the big stuff for birthdays. It's challenging! Sounds like you have a similar approach to Hanukkah. I try and focus on the special music, decorations and food at this time of year and just enjoy the season rather than focus on the gift aspect of Christmas day.
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