Many people’s understanding of the Hanukkah — y’know, “the Jewish Christmas” — comes from a silly SNL sketch; ask for a definition and you’ll usually get a singsong “Hanukkah is the festival of lights / Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights!”
But what’s it really all about? In a very tiny nutshell: the holiday commemorates the rededication of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, a sacred spot reclaimed by the Maccabees after their successful revolt against hopeful colonizer King Antiochus III of Syria. The “festival of lights” ritualizes this historical religious event, with the traditional menorah and its candles representing the eight nights the Maccabees kept their limited supply of oil burning.
Officially, the holiday will be celebrated with the lighting of the National Menorah in Washington, DC, a tradition that began in 1979 under President Jimmy Carter (though, allegedly, it was Reagan who dubbed it the “National” Menorah).
Here in town, you can enjoy the festivities with Chabad of Austin. On Thursday, December 22, they’ll be hosting a gathering at City Hall to celebrate the third night of Hanukkah — meet at 5:30 p.m. for the public menorah lighting and feast on traditional latkes, applesauce and sufganlyot (a filled, fried pastry), plus plenty of hot cocoa.
On Tuesday, December 27, there will be another public menorah lighting at the Texal Capitol Building to ring in the final, eighth evening of Hanukkah. At 5:30 p.m., join for fun, food, dancing, songs and more.
Visit Chabad’s dedicated Hannukah page for more info on local festivities and details on all the holiday traditions.
Want more holiday treats?
Over at NPR, Morning Edition profiles several unique Hanukkah-inspired microbrews and the history behind them.
Wired presents an eight part “Geek Celebrates Hanukkah With Science” series, documenting one fun family’s special way of celebrating.
Serious Eats rounds up their favorite traditional recipes, from apps to desserts.