Posted in Kafevend Blog

Officially beginning yesterday evening, today is the first full day of Hanukkah. While there are no drinks especially associated with the festival, food does play a big part, which we'll consider after an explanation of the festival's origin.

Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish festival observed for eight days and nights. It commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabees' (a Jewish army) defeat of the Syrian Greek army some two and a half thousand years ago. Once the Jews had finished repairing and cleaning the Temple, only one small jar of oil could be found to light the menorah, just enough to keep it going for one day and yet miraculously it stayed alight for eight. No surprise then that a central element of the festival is the Hanukkiyah, a candelabrum with nine candle holders – one for each day of Hanukkah and another for the server candle; an additional candle is lit each evening until, by the eighth, all the candles are alight.

Amongst the commonly practised traditions of Hanukkah is the eating of foods fried in oil, such as sufganiyot and latkas, serving as a reminder of the miracle of the Temple oil. Sufganiyot are jam doughnuts sold by bakeries and supermarkets, not only over Hanukkah, but in the run up to it so as to create excitement and anticipation of the forthcoming event. Latkas or livivot are the Yiddish and Hebrew terms for potato pancakes. According to a folk proverb latkas fulfil an additional role by reminding people that they cannot live by miracles alone, but need to work towards their goals.

Dairy food and especially cheese is also typically eaten during Hanukkah in commemoration of Judith, who defeated an enemy general single-handedly during the time of the Maccabees' revolt. Her gifts of cheese and wine got her into the enemy camp, where she fed the army general salty cheese which made him so thirsty that he drank a lot of wine. Once drunk Judith beheaded him. His troops fled when they found his body and so Judith saved the day for her besieged town.

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