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The miracle of Chanukkah: learning the story behind lighting candles

| Categories: Events & Celebrations

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Today officially marks the beginning of Chanukkah, the Festival of Lights. To celebrate this festive season, guest writer and District education coordinator, Jessie Fogell shares her special family traditions and talks about the story and miracle behind Chanukkah. 

Like all Jewish holidays, Chanukkah is filled with many special traditions. Every year as Chanukkah approaches, my children get excited about lighting the candles, eating special treats, and learning more about the miracle of Chanukkah. Let me share a little bit about the traditions of Chanukkah with you. 

You are most likely familiar with what a menorah looks like. Picture a branched candelabra that holds up several candles. If you are not Jewish, you may not know that the special type of menorah used during Chanukkah is called a chanukiah. 

A regular menorah has 7 candles – one for each day of the week. As Chanukkah is a celebration that lasts 8 days, a chanukiah holds 8 candles. The chanukiah also has an additional ninth candle called the shamash, which means "helper". 

You begin the first night of Chanukkah with only one candle on the right side; then you add a new candle next to it each night over 8 days. You never blow out Chanukkah candles, instead let them burn until the flame goes out. 

Once the chanukiah is lit at sundown, you put it in the window so that you can share the light with everyone who passes by. After lighting candles, my family usually recites blessings and celebrates with special foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) fried with oil. These foods are a reminder to honour the miracle of oil which lasted for 8 days.

Now that the candles are lit and the food is eaten, my family then plays games with a dreidel. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top – one of Chanukkah’s most famous traditions. On each side of the dreidel there is a letter in Hebrew that is an abbreviation for a Hebrew word. The four words together spell “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” which means "A great miracle happened there". 

Happy Chanukkah to everyone in the Vancouver School District! I hope you and your family enjoy the traditions and celebrations during this festive time of year. 

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