The chanukiah is a candelabrum (also called a menorah) used at the festival of Chanukah – a festival of lights, celebrated for eight days in December.
At Chanukah we remember the story of the Maccabees. After the death of Alexander the Great, his kingdom was split. Israel came under the rule of the Syrian faction and their king, Antiochus. He conquered the country, installed Greek idols in the Temple, and decreed that Jewish people were forbidden to practice their Judaism. Fighting for religious freedom, the Maccabees defeated the King’s troops, reclaimed the Temple, and enabled Jewish people to worship there again. However, the Ner Tamid – the eternal flame – had been extinguished, and only a very small amount of oil was left. Miraculously, this oil lasted for eight days until new supplies could be obtained, and thus the Chanukiah has eight lights to remember the miracle.
There is one additional candle, either in the middle or standing out in some way from the others, called the Shamash (“attendant”) that is used to light the other candles. On the first night of Chanukah, it is used to light a single candle, on the second night two candles, on the third night three, etc, until all eight candles are lit on the last night. We add candles from right to left (the same direction in which Hebrew is written), but light them left to right, so that the first candle to be lit is the new one.
We also eat latkes, potato pancakes, deep fried to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days. Doughnuts and other fried products have also become a popular Chanukah food.
Traditionally, Chanukah is a relatively minor festival but because it happens to fall during the “festive season”, new traditions such as giving and receiving presents are common.
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