Chanukah: Rooted In Religious Freedom
Shelli Liebman Dorfman
Senior Writer I
Detroit Jewish News
ith all the things the upcom-
ing holiday of Chanukah is,
the one thing it is not is the
"Jewish Christmas." Not only does it have
no connection with the non-Jewish holi-
day, but the eight-day festival is actually
one of the less major Jewish celebrations.
Created by the rabbis of the high-
est Jewish Court, Chanukah often
doesn't coincide by date with Christmas.
Chanukah's fixed date is on the 25th day
of the Hebrew month of Kislev — all
according to a lunar calendar. Occurring
any time from late November to late
December, this year Chanukah began the
night of Wednesday, Dec. I.
The Hebrew word, spelled a multitude
of ways in English — from
Hanukkah to Hanukah to Chanuka — is
defined as "dedication." Also called the
"Festival of Lights:' Chanukah commemo-
rates the time of the Second Holy Temple
in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.E.
The Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus
IV Epiphanes sought to pull Jews away
from Judaism, hoping to assimilate them
into Greek culture. A small band of Jews,
known as the Maccabees, fought and
defeated Antiochus' army, winning a vic-
tory of religious freedom.
During the Syrian-Greek reign, the
Temple was desecrated so the
Jewish people purified and rededicated it.
When they went to light the eternal flame,
there was only enough uncontaminated
olive oil for it to burn for one day. The
"miracle of Chanukah" is that the oil con-
tinued to burn for eight days, until fresh
oil could be prepared.
For that reason, the holiday is celebrated
by lighting a nine-branched candelabra
called a chanukiah, or menorah, with one
additional candle lit on each night. An
extra candle, called a shamash, is present
for the purpose of lighting the others. The
menorah is typically placed in front of a
Elijah Fox, now 6, of Bloomfield Hills,
examines a toy menorah during last
year's Chanukah celebration at Adat
Shalom Synagogue's Early Childhood
Center in Farmington Hills.
window facing the street to publicize the
Blessings of thanksgiving are recited
upon lighting the menorah and dur-
ing daily prayer services throughout
The holiday is also celebrated with
Chanukah songs and, as with most other
Jewish holidays, with family and com-
munal meals. Traditional Chanukah foods
include those fried in oil — like latkes
(potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-
filled doughnuts) — to commemorate the
miracle of the oil.
13 Gifts are not a major component of the
fage' holiday for many, and may be limited to
g' children. Presents range from "Chanukah
gelt (money)" — which may be monetary
or in the form of chocolate coins — to
more substantial gifts.
The traditional game piece of
Chanukah is the "dreidel," a top-like
object that is spun. Players bet on which
of its four sides it will land on when
it falls. In another commemoration of
events leading up to the holiday, the sides
are labeled with the Hebrew initials for
the words, "a great miracle happened
Christmas Mixes Old, New Traditions
Vanessa Denha Garmo
Editor I Chaldean News
any Chaldean Christmas traditions have
traveled thousands of miles from Iraq to be
carried on generation to generation in the
United States and around the world.
Today, Chaldeans also have adopted many of the
American Christmas traditions with candy canes, mis-
tletoe and stockings above the fireplace.
Church is the most significant part of the Dec. 25
holiday. In Iraq, Christians celebrate for three days and
attend mass every day, including a two-hour midnight
mass on Christmas Eve. Some families prepare for the
coming of Christ's birth 25 days prior by abstaining
from meat. They also clean house and visit dozens of
The traditional foods prepared during Christmas
are distinctive and authentically ethnic. Pacha (stuffed
tripe) and haresa (beef barley stew) are staple dishes
on the table. The meal is topped off with traditional
Christmas cookies often served with chai (tea).
Koolecha (date and walnut cookies) are prepared most
December 2 2010
commonly during the month of December.
In Iraq, gifts are not exchanged. Instead, each person
wears a new outfit bought especially for Christmas.
Every garment worn that day is brand-new, down to the
socks and underwear. Visitors often give money to chil-
dren living in the homes they visit.
It is common for Iraqi priests to visit every Chaldean
home in the village even though they spend just a few
minutes at each place. In Telkaif, before the war in 2003,
many Chaldean families spent Christmas at a park
called Bedratha. There, they would eat and play a vari-
ety of games including cards, soccer and marbles.
In some Christian homes in Iraq, a ceremony is held
in the courtyard on Christmas Eve and children read
from the Bible.
In the United States, Chaldeans, like many other
Christians, incorporate traditional religious celebrations
with the secular such as visiting Santa Claus, decorating
the Christmas tree and adorning the home with lights.
Regardless of the varied celebrations, the birth of
Christ is at the center of it all; that is what is celebrated
in our homes and in our hearts with our loved ones in
A Nativity scene depicting the birth of Jesus