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Contrary to popular belief here in the South, Chanukah is not Jewish Christmas, even though it’s celebrated in proximity to it.

It does celebrate the miraculous Maccabean victory over its Grecian oppressors back in the second century BCE (Before the Common Era). It also commemorates the rededication in Jerusalem of the Holy Temple during which time there was only enough oil for one day and it lasted for eight.

Jews the world over bring out their menorahs (candelabrum) each year and light candles during the eight-day celebration which include prayers. The light from the flickering candles is used for enjoyment and not for utilitarian purposes. Practice says that the menorah be placed in the window for all to see. Of course, it might not find itself there in many homes.

Every family, community, congregation or denomination within Judaism has its own minhag (Hebrew for custom) on how this time is spent. Many folks take this time to adorn their homes with festive decorations. Some have parties, some give gelt (money in Yiddish) to the kids every night and some play games associated with the holiday, like the dreidel (a four-sided top of sorts that is spun). One thing you will certainly find at some time, especially at the beginning, is a big plateful of latkes (potato pancakes), applesauce and sour cream to put on them, donuts and other customary foods. My congregation has a latke-making contest. A wide assortment are brought from sweet potato to more spicy versions. At any rate, it’s a lot of fun and throughout the holiday, we certainly enjoy ourselves.

You may have heard or think that we give presents every night. For some that might be true, especially if there are young children in the household. Popular gifts include Judaica (Jewish-oriented gifts and ritual objects), as well as jewelry, housewares, books, CDs, games, collectibles and more. One thing that is high on the list is chocolate coins for the kids. They always love them and usually sort of expect them (again, a minhag). Many of my friends really enjoy getting a box of beautiful, decorative Chanukah candles. Some come in rainbow colors, others in shades of blue and white. Don’t forget that special pet. They’ll like a new toy to play with or a spiffy bandana to make them look even more adorable. Charitable contributions are a huge tradition during this season, as well as other times throughout the year. Whatever your choice, the internet is loaded with a host of websites that will satisfy every palette. Explore to find one that matches your taste and needs. : :

Lainey Millen

Lainey Millen was formerly QNotes' associate editor, special assignments writer, N.C. and U.S./World News Notes columnist and production director from 2001-2019 when she retired.