The Eight Days of Hanukkah – Day 5
A Little History
What do you know about Hanukkah? If you were not raised in a family that celebrated this holiday, you might think it’s what the Jews celebrate in late Fall or early Winter so they don’t feel left out of the holiday season. And you’d be wrong… sort of. The story behind the holiday predates Christianity, but the celebration of the holiday, from what I’ve been told, is relatively minor among the Jewish orthodoxy: light some candles, tell some stories, go to bed. No days off from work. Nothing about dragging Mother Nature into your house and dressing her up with blinky lights and delicate glass balls. No mass gatherings at midnight to pray.
Hanukkah is about triumph. It’s about a small group of people bound by a common belief who overcame the oppression of the oppressive tactics of an oppressing regime. Oppression may not be unique to the Jews, but Jewish holidays are like a historic perspective on school yard bullying. To bad there were no public service announcements several thousand years ago about bullying your neighbors just because they prayed to a God that you couldn’t see or touch.
And what would you do after being freed from terrible oppression? Eat, of course. But not just any food. No sir. You would want to pick out just the right foods that have meaning and connection to your freedom from bondage so that you never forget how awful it was to live under the rule of a tyrannical tyrant. This is sounding more like Passover. Let me get back to Hanukkah.
The Symbolism of it All
Hanukkah is not only a story of triumph. It’s a story of a miracle. It’s a story of oil (Surprise! Surprise! Oil in the Middle East?). To make a long story less long, there was only enough oil to light the lamp above the arc of the covenant for one day. I’m not sure exactly what that arc thing was or what was in it, but I think it is like the constitution of the United States. It was a symbol of the power that held the people together. Anyway, the oil lasted eight days. I guess in those days it was more important to keep the lights on than to care for the wounded and feed the masses. But it lasted for eight days and that was seen as a miracle.
It has become a tradition to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah by eating foods cooked in oil. For both Jews that still live in the South it might include fried chicken, chicken livers, chicken gizzards, collards swimming in bacon grease, pork cracklins, and fried pork rinds. I know, I know. Jews aren’t supposed to eat pork. Maybe they’re Jew-ish like me. For the rest of us, the traditional foods are potato pancakes and doughnuts: both cooked in plenty of heart stopping, artery clogging, shirt staining oil. You think I’m kidding about the doughnuts? Not at all. Check it out here. For a holiday meal, it sure beats lutfisk.
I think the real miracle of Hanukkah is that we Jews eat foods like that all year yet we survive!