Students reflect on Hanukkah traditions

Around this time, when the air begins to chill and the end of the year approaches, Christmas is often the first though on everyone’s mind. While Christmas is celebrated by many people, not just Christians, it seems to pervade the thoughts of most. Many other holidays, such as Hanukkah, are often overlooked amidst cartoon Santas and evergreen trees.

Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday lasting eight days, commemorating the defeat of the Syrians and the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem over 2000 years ago. During this ancient conflict, Jews were forced to worship Greek gods, causing the Jews to rebel against the oppression.

The Jews lit a lamp in the temple while they tried to gain control of their freedom. The lamp contained enough oil to burn for only one day, even though the menorah in the temple needed to burn throughout the night. To the Jews’ surprise, the lamp burned for eight days straight and the temple was rededicated, hence why Hanukkah is observed for eight days.

“I like the fact that there are eight nights of it, so you have something to look forward to every day during that time,” senior Arlo Hettle said.

Because the Jewish calendar is based on cycles of the moon, the date of the holiday can differ from year to year. In 2017, the holiday began on Dec. 12 and concludes on Dec. 20.

While the popularity of Christmas is visible at Cedar Falls High School with Christmas trees decorating the auditorium and students wearing Santa hats, there are students who celebrate Hanukkah as well.

“[ Hanukkah] is a holiday unique to myself and a few others in the area that we live in,” senior Parker Strauss said. “ I consider myself lucky that I can experience the culture and call the holiday my own.”

During Hanukkah, a special candelabra called a Menorah is lit on each night of the holiday. The menorah contains nine candles — one for each night and an additional candle to light the rest. Blessings are recited and many celebrating Hanukkah also exchange gifts with their family and friends on each night.

While many Jewish people’s celebrations generally follow the same pattern, many have unique traditions.

“Our family always has quirky Menorahs that are not traditional,” Strauss said. “Last year we had a turkey menorah because thanksgiving was the same day as Hanukkah. This year we have a cat menorah.”

While Hanukkah traditions have evolved into modern versions, such as Strauss’, there is still a profound meaning to the holiday that many who celebrate it hold dear.

“It’s nice to be able to celebrate something in the middle of the cold in the winter, but there is also definitely deeper meaning behind it in terms of the ideas of perseverance and hope that tie into the traditional story,” Hettle said.

The deep meaning of Hanukkah pervades the holiday, connecting families and friends with their ancestry and religion. This results in fond memories of the holiday’s activities for the millions of people who celebrate it.

“I have memories of Hanukkah parties my grandma would have in New York, and her friend would make latkes, and it was always just really nice,” Hettle said. “ I also remember getting to brag in elementary school about getting eight nights of presents when everyone else got one.”

Strauss also has fond memories of celebrating Hanukkah.

“I remember when I was a kid I would anxiously wait for 4 or 5 when the sun went down and then run upstairs and pester my parents about lighting the candles,” Strauss said.

While Hanukkah is not as common in Iowa, especially the community of Cedar Falls, Strauss and Hettle both agree that learning about Hanukkah helps people to better understand the true meaning of the celebration.

“Things like Hanukkah are important to learn about especially in a town like Cedar Falls where most of the population aren’t Jews so there isn’t much exposure to the culture,” Strauss said. “They should know that although Hanukkah is obviously about giving, it is also about finding light in dark times.”

Though there are many things celebrated around this time of year, Hettle emphasized the importance of learning what celebrations, such as Hanukkah, mean for the groups that celebrate them. “I think it’s important to see how we are celebrating the same sentiments and ideas, just in a different way,” he said.

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