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The Truth About Chanukah

Happy Chanukah everyone!

Chanukah, the Jewish holiday known for fried potato pancakes, jelly donuts and eight nights of presents, has a completely different significance than most of the world actually thinks. With the holiday having come to a close this weekend, I wanted to dispel some common misconceptions about the holiday.

1. Chanukah is the equivalent to Jewish Christmas

This, in fact, is not true. Chanukah is a holiday that celebrates the success of the Maccabees (a Jewish tribe) in defeating their Greek-Syrian oppressors. During the time of the second temple in Jerusalem, the Greek-Syrians attempted to burn down the temple, and so the Jews rose up as an army and won the dispute. We can see here that Chanukah and Christmas have no similarities, even though they are celebrated around the same time of year.

2. Chanukah is all about giving and receiving presents

The tradition of giving presents to children on Chanukah was established in the U.S. to prevent Jewish children from feeling left out when their peers were getting Christmas presents. In Israel, children are given gelt (money) instead of presents. This is related to an ancient custom in which money was given to the poor so they would be able to light the candles on their chanukiah (menorahs specific to Chanukah).

3. Chanukah falls at the same time as Christmas every year

Chanukah does not always fall at the same time as Christmas annually. This year, Chanukah fell at the beginning of the month of December, and occasionally, Chanukah falls closer to Thanksgiving than Christmas. This is due to the fact that Chanukah follows the Jewish calendar, which is a lunar calendar, versus the Gregorian calendar, which is the most widely used calendar.

4. Chanukah is the most important holiday for the Jewish people

Chanukah is a semi-important holiday, however, it is not the most important holiday. The most important holidays to the Jewish people are Yom Kippur (the day of atonement) and Passover (celebration of the Jew’s exodus out of Egypt). Chanukah, in fact, is not even included in the Torah.

There you go. Now you know the ins and outs of Chanukah and more importantly, you know what it isn’t, despite what people commonly think.

Happy Holidays!

Ilana Hirschfeld

Northeastern '22

Ilana Hirschfeld is a first-year student at Northeastern University, majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Studies. Originally from San Diego, California, she's excited to be starting a new chapter of her life in Boston!
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