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GREATER MANCHESTER: Hanukkah 2021 – When is it and where does it come from?

GREATER MANCHESTER: Hanukkah 2021 – When is it and where does it come from?

Leicester Road in Salford. Pictured in November 2020. Credit: Google Maps. Caption: Joseph Timan. Permission for use for all LDRs partners.

Jewish communities in Greater Manchester will start celebrating Hanukkah this weekend – and unlike last year, they will be able to enjoy it together.

The Jewish festival of light, which lasts eight nights, involves lighting candles on a menorah, eating fried foods and playing with spinning tops called dreidels.

But communities across the region were not allowed to celebrate Hanukkah with other households last year as Tier 3 rules banned meeting in most places.

Covid-safe Hanukkah celebrations, such as drive-in candle lighting events, took place instead of the usual mass gatherings in public squares and parks.

However, despite the infection rate remaining relatively high in boroughs like Salford, Bury and Trafford, the celebrations can go ahead as usual this year.

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates the story of the Maccabees – Jews who rebelled against King Antiochus, the Seleucid ruler of Judea and Samaria.

In the second century B.C. modern-day Israel was ruled by the Seleucids who were Greek-Syrian. They tried to force the Jews not to follow their religion.

A small band of Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, rose up and defeated them.

After they liberated the second temple, a miracle was said to have happened.

A multi-branched candelabra known as a menorah was lit and despite the Maccabees only finding a small drop of oil, enough to burn for one day, the oil ended up lasting for eight nights – enough time for more oil to be resupplied.

When is Hanukkah?

The ‘festival of light’ usually falls in December, but as it follows the Jewish lunisolar calendar, it can fall in late November or coincide with Christmas.

The celebration takes place in the longest and darkest month of the year.

To mark the miracle, Hanukkah lasts for eight days, starting on the 25th of Kislev, four days before the new moon – the darkest night of the month.

This year, the evening of Sunday, November 28 marks the start of Hanukkah.

The eight-day celebration will end on the evening of Monday, 6 December.

How is Hanukkah celebrated?

The traditional celebrations of the Jewish wintertime ‘festival of lights’ involves a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and foods fried in oil.

One extra candle is lit each night until all eight are burning on the final night.

Each candle on the nine-branch candelabra, which is called the hanukkiah, is lit by the shamash – a special candle which sits a bit higher or lower than the rest.

Children play with dreidels – square spinning tops – marked with one of four Hebrew letters on each side which stand for “a great miracle happened there”.

The dreidel gambling game stems from the Greek-Syrian rule when Jews were prevented from studying the Torah, the Hebrew bible, and so whenever a soldier walked by, they would play with dreidels to hide their learning.

As the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil – traditionally in Europe this includes potato latkes and jam-filled doughnuts.

What do you say at Hanukkah?

There are different spellings of ‘Hanukkah’, which is often spelt ‘Chanukah’, because it is a Hebrew word which is not easy to transliterate into English.

To wish someone a happy Hanukkah, you can say Hanukkah Sameakh which is pronounced sah-MEY-akh using a hard ‘k’ sound from the back of the throat.

Russell Conn, who is the president of the Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester and Region said: “As we approach the Chanukah, the Festival of Light, we must express our gratitude that we are now able to meet again in person after the last traumatic 18 months.

“As the light of the Chanukiah dispels the winter gloom may we all bask in the light that it spreads and may we all have a wonderful holiday.

“Wishing the whole community a Happy Chanukah and in advance a Merry Christmas and holiday.”

Salford mayor Paul Dennett and his deputy, Broughton councillor John Merry, added: “All Salford’s communities have had a challenging 12 months, so it is really fitting that Hanukkah, a wonderful festival of light, celebrates the principle that a little bit of light can drive out much darkness. We wish everyone safe, healthy and happy celebrations – Hanukkah Sameach!”

Words: Joseph Timan, Local Democracy Reporter


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