Hannukah 2022

Objects of one of our favourite holidays from the collection of a collector in Győr

Hanukkah in 2022 is an eight-day holiday from 18 December at sunset to 25 December at sunset (from 24 kislev to 2 tevet in the Jewish calendar).

Historical context

Hanukkah (in Hebrew חֲנֻכָּה ḥănukkâ, also חנוכה, consecration) is the festival of lights.

This feast commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks (165 BC), the cleansing and rededication of the sanctuary in Jerusalem and the miracle of the oil lamp burning for eight days. One of the Jewish holidays that is not based on the Torah (such as Purim) is unique in that it commemorates a war event in the memory of the people.

Hanukkiah, decorated with eagle, Polish, silver, marked, year 1887, for candle use

In the middle of the 2nd century BC, the Greek ruler of Judea, Antiochus IV, imposed restrictive measures in Judea, which had enjoyed religious autonomy until then, to facilitate the spread of Hellenism. He placed the statue of Zeus in the sanctuary, thereby desecrating it, and obliged Jews to prostrate before the Roman idols that were draped around them in the cities, in violation of the strict Torah prohibition.

As a result, Matijahu of the Hasmonean family led an uprising in a small town called Modiin, and under the leadership of his son Judah Maccabee, a handful of Jews defeated the superior Syrian-Greek army, cleansed the sanctuary and rededicated it. To commemorate this, the feast was named the “rededication” of the Jerusalem shrine.

Hanukkiah, decorated with lions, stone tablet, peacock, Russian, silver, dated 1870, wick oil, central screw, 8-day oil tank, the shammes also wick oil operated

Hanukkah in Judaism also celebrates the triumph of monotheistic Judaism over polytheism in Hellenism.

Hanukkah concepts and objects, customs

Hag haraorim (festival of lights): after the Maccabees had cleansed the sanctuary, they found only enough kosher oil to light the sacred candlestick, the menorah, for one day. It would have taken eight days to produce new oil, but then, according to tradition, a miracle occurred: the oil, enough for one day, burned for eight days. To commemorate this, every night from the first day of Hanukkah onwards, Jewish families light one more candle. The candle or oil holder is called a Hanukiah.

Hanukkiah, decorated with Star of David, Russian, silver, marked, 19th century

This holiday is especially intimate and full of fun on winter evenings.

The children play with trenderli (Hanukkah spinners), have oil-fried treats and sing Hanukkah songs. Nowadays, every day of Hanukkah, children are presented with gifts, adding to the significance of the holiday.

Trenderli (spinning needle), silver, Russian, marked, 20th century, one with a needle, enamel, Hebrew inscription (Nes Gadol Haya Sham/Po = A great miracle happened there), the other two with Hebrew letters engraved in coloured rock crystal (Nun – nist/nothing, Gimel – ganc/all, Hey – halb/half, Shin – stel ayn/load)

Hanukkiah: so, the Hanukkiah is the Hanukkah candlestick, not to be confused with the seven-pointed menorah.  

Hanukkiah, with lions, “Lehadlik Ner Chanukah” (Light the flame of Hanukkah) relief, bronze sculpture with tree of life, crown, eight oil cans and shammes, from Galicia, dated 1829

It has nine branches, eight are normal candle or wick holders, while the “servant” flame is placed in the middle. The “servant” is used to light the eight candles or wicks. One on the first day, two on the second, and so on. At the end of the festivity, nine flames are lit (eight plus the servant), symbolizing that the oil has lasted for eight days.

Hanukkiah, with peacock, lions, Austrian, silvered brass, 19th century, works with oil, candle, with pitcher and candle shammes

In 2022, the first flame of the festive candlestick will be lit on the evening of 18 December and the last, eighth flame on the evening of 25 December. In the evening, as the days of the Jewish calendar begin at sunset.

Hanukkiah, galloping ancient war chariot, with warrior stretching his bow, sammes held by a toga-robed servant, Egyptian, ivory, candle design

Hanukkah and Christmas: Hanukkah has nothing to do with Christmas. Nevertheless, many people draw parallels between the two holidays, as they fall at the same time of year (winter solstice, end of darkness, ancient festival). Candlelight and light are part of both joyous holidays and children are given gifts for both. While Christmas is one of the most important holidays in the Christian religion (the Church has set the date of Jesus’ birth at this time, while in his time the Jewish Hanukkah may have been celebrated by Jesus himself), Hanukkah is less important in the Jewish festivals: work is not forbidden and observant Jews do not wear festive clothes.

Hanukkiah, with stone tablet, lions, flowers, crown, silver chain, for candle use, Russian, silver, dated 1894

However, Hanukkah is still an important holiday. Maimonides, for example, urges even the poorest Jews to light a lamp on the occasion, even if they have to sell their clothes to buy oil.

Hanukkiah, folding travel candlestick, with the main elements of the ancient sanctuary, for candle or oil use, silver, marked, Russian, dated 1874

Dreidel (Yiddish), or trenderli: a four-sided spinning needle with four different letters on its sides, which when read together spell nesz gádol hájá sham, meaning there was a great miracle there.

Gelt (Yiddish): money given for Hanukkah. Nowadays it refers to money made from chocolate and given to children or consumed even by adults during Hanukkah.

Hanukkiah, decorated with Jerusalem motifs, olive wood, tribal symbols, engraved, copper, signed, engraving from Palestine, first half of 20th century

Latkes: there is no Jewish holiday without this food, except Yom Kippur and the other fast days. During Hanukkah, it is nothing more than a variety of pancakes fried in oil and rich in carbohydrates.

Hanukkiah with bird decoration, bronze, Galicia, 19th century, the flame is oil fed, the shammes is candle

Sufganiyot: this doughnut is eaten when the latkes are gone. Rich in fat, pastry and sugar, this jam-filled doughnut is a much-admired caloric bomb, charming in its simplicity; its oriental little brother, the sphinj, which means the same sweet pastry in Arabic as sufganiyot in Hebrew: sponge.

Hanukkiah, with birds, flowers, Moorish elements, bronze, oil, from Galicia, 19th century


Pagony kiadó: Hanukai fények (fotó: pagony.hu)

Wikipédia: Hanuka (hu.m.wikipedia.org)

MAZSIHISZ: Hanukai kisokos (mazsihisz.hu)

Important Judaica, Greenstein and Co.Inc., New York 2004, 2005

Greenstein Auction of antique and artisan Judaica, New York 2007

Masterpieces of Jewish Art: Bronze, National Museum of Ukraine Judaika, Muzeum Diecezjalne w Rzeszowie, Poland

Featured image © pagony.hu; other photos © collector from Győr