Hanukkah: A Primer
Note: Despite the use of the word Primer, this won’t be a tale of time travel that screws mercilessly with your head. Though I will be providing historical context to shatter some of the common misconceptions about the Festival of Lights, I’m actually referring to the other definition of primer: that first coat of white paint you lay down before applying the color you really want. After all, I need to whitewash all preconceived notions from your head to ensure that they won’t interfere when I paint for you the truth.
I feel I am uniquely qualified to speak on this subject because of my Jew-ish upbringing,1 my two decades as a devout Jewish Atheist, and my aforementioned aversion to the commercialization and materialism of Hanukkah.2 In short, you can be sure that I will remain completely impartial. But enough about me. On to the truthiness!
The correct spelling of the holiday is Hanukkah. All other spellings are pale imitations, bastardizations created when Jews entered America by way of Ellis Island in the early 20th century. Just as many traditional Jewish surnames were butchered by immigration officials over the years, so, too, were the names of their holidays.
Hannukah, like all Jewish holidays, arrives on a different date every year. You may already be aware that the length of the Hebrew year varies from year to year, but you probably didn’t know that this is a relatively modern convention, or that it was done on purpose. The calendars initially matched from beginning to end, but in the year 1873 AD the Jewish elders shortened their year as a practical joke to mess with the goyim. It was to be a one-year thing, but they soon realized that it also cut down on persecution: Since most of the Klan were morons, if they didn’t catch people celebrating Purim or Passover or Chanukah on the expected days, they couldn’t be sure the people were Jews, and therefore couldn’t, in good conscience, string them up. This is why, to this day, every two or three years the Jews insert a new month into their calendar. Plus, it keeps the Google logo creators on their toes.
Tradition states that the eight candles on the Chanukkah menorah are symbolic of the time when people thought there was only enough consecrated oil to keep the eternal flame in the Temple at Jerusalem lit for one day, but then, miraculously, another eight barrels were found stashed in a back room. This is a complete fallacy. In actuality, the candles symbolize the eight wise men who lavished Moses with gifts3 upon his birth. However, when the Crusades rolled around, the Jews learned that it was best not to one-up (or, for that matter, five-up) Jesus, so they started circulating the false story about the oil.
Along with the eight candles, typically a ninth candle, called the shamash, is added for good luck. And if, on the last day of Chanukka, you manage to blow out all the candles at once, that Christian kid you hate down the street will get nothing under the tree but a cheesy sweater and matching socks.
The dreidel game is a vast conspiracy among Jews to teach the ins and outs of economics to their children at a very young age, thereby eventually controlling all of the world’s finances. The game is traditionally played on Hannukka with gelt, which are coins either made of chocolate or solid gold, depending on how Jewish your family is. Each player in turn spins the dreidel, and then performs the action corresponding to the letter that lands side-up:
- נ (nun) - You get a whack on the knuckles with a ruler unless you say three Our Fathers and four Hail Marys.
- ג (gimel) - Shortened from “gi’mel,” or “give Mel.” Give cousin Mel one coin. If you have no cousin Mel,4 give one coin to the player who has seen the most Mel Brooks movies.
- ה (hey) - Point behind the other players and yell, “Hey! What in the world can that be?!” While they’re distracted, take half the coins in the pot.
- ש (shin) - Kick one of the players on either side of you squarely in the shin, then take one of his coins.
Also known as potato pancakes, latkes are made in commemoration of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, when they left with such haste that they forgot the yeast and were forced to eat unleavened potatoes. They are named after Andy Kaufman’s character on “Taxi” because his was the first realistic portrayal of a Jew on national television.6
So, there you have it. You now know all there is to know about Hannukkah. You're very welcome.
Now, what’s this “Christmas” thing I keep hearing about?
1 One whole year of Sunday School, bitches!
2 As evidenced by the fact that I own neither a menorah nor a dreidel.
3 Gold, silver, bronze, frankincense, frankenberry, falafel, tahini, and a pet tiger named Bobo.
4 What kind of Jew are you, without a cousin Mel?
5 This is more likely to happen with the chocolate variety, but anything’s possible when cousin Mel is involved.
6 Before “Taxi,” they were called “vigodas.”