One of the world’s most joyous holidays starts Wednesday night. People in Costa Rica and around the world will begin observing Hanukkah, sometimes referred to as the Jewish Festival of Lights, at sunset Dec. 1.
Hanukkah lasts for eight days, beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the lunar Jewish calendar. That usually translates into a solidly December holiday in the secular calendar, although occasional, rare spills into November or January occur during some years.
The holiday commemorates events that grew out of the Jewish Maccabean army’s victory over Greek occupiers in 165 B.C., and the subsequent rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following its desecration by the invaders. (Hanukkah – its variant spelling is Chanukah – means “dedication” in Hebrew.) Just a scant amount of clean oil was found to light the menorah, the temple candelabrum, but the lights burned for eight days.
Hanukkah is a time for lighting menorahs each of its eight nights and spinning the dreidel, a small, four-sided top embossed with Hebrew letters.
For more on the holiday, we turned to the experts, some of the kindergarten students at the Hebrew Day School in the western San José district of Rohrmoser. They have been learning about Hanukkah and had this to tell us during a visit last week by The Tico Times:
“A long, long time ago there was a very bad king, and his name was Antiochus. He didn’t like eating kosher. He didn’t let the Jews learn Torah (the Bible). He didn’t let them do circumcision. And the Jews went to hide and they started learning Torah. And whenever the bad people would come, the Jews would quickly put away the Torah and they would take out the dreidel and they would start playing with it and make them think that they were playing with the dreidel the whole time.”
“The four (Hebrew) letters on the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hei, shin.”
“That stands for ‘Nes gadol haya sham.’ (A great miracle happened there.)”
“A long time ago the Jews prepared for a fight with the bad people. Antiochus went and destroyed things in the Temple. And they put pigs on the altar. They broke the menorah. They touched the oil. Then the Jews cleaned it up and put things back like they were. They found a little bit of oil and they thought it would last for one day. But it was a miracle because it was enough for eight days.”
A holiday isn’t a holiday without its special foods, of course, and Hanukkah is no exception. The eight days are an excuse to consume oily foods in honor of the miracle of the oil. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are special favorites. Both Little Israel (Plaza Los Laureles, Escazú, 2228-9775) and Kosher Center (Pavas Highway, 2232-2991) prepare these foods this time of year, and Little Israel sells Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and dreidels.