Festival of Lights on the way

Courtney Cook

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, begins tonight at sundown.

Hanukkah Programming

-Wednesday, 5:30 p.m., Student Center Lobby

Candle Lighting Ceremony

Menorah lit by President Lester Lefton

-Thursday, 8:00 p.m., Rathskeller

Hillel Hanukkah party

“No Limit” Texas Dreidel and karaoke

-Friday, 6 p.m., Hillel Jewish Student Center

Free Shabbat dinner

Menorah lighting at 5:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Kent Hillel at

(330) 678-0397.

“In my house, from youngest to oldest, we open a big present each night, because including my parents, there are eight of us,” freshman exploratory major Amy Horowitz said. “We all get small presents, socks and candy and stuff, every night, and each gets one night for the large present. It works well for us because we’re a family of eight. It’s mostly about tradition. Other families do it differently.”

Many Jewish families who recognize the holiday light one candle of the menorah every night of the eight-day holiday celebration. The exchange of gifts during the holiday originated with the distribution of gelt, the Yiddish word for money.

Accompanying Christmas

The holiday, however, is often shadowed by the fast-paced celebration of Christmas that overwhelms the month of December.

“Somehow Hanukkah has turned into the ‘Jewish Christmas,’ which is kind of an oxymoron,” Horowitz said.

Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish triumph over the Hellenistic Syrian Greeks. The Greeks had banned the Maccabees, a small group of Jewish fighters who liberated Israel from the Greeks, from using the synagogue.

The Maccabees were unable to celebrate Sukkot, an autumn holiday that commemorates of the end of the Jews wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt, without the temple. The holiday was post-poned until the rededication of the synagogue, pushing the celebration of Sukkot later in the season.

The Maccabees reclaimed their temple in Israel after a three-year campaign. There, they found a single cruse of pure oil to light the menorah, the eight-candle holder representing Jewish nationalism.

Appreciating all holidays

Scott Figler, plans events and recruits for Hillel of Kent, said his family usually does a prayer and lights the menorah before dinner during Hanukkah. He said it’s often believed that Hanukkah is the biggest Jewish holiday, but it is not.

“I definitely think that Hanukkah is hyped up,” Figler said. “If it was in May, and not in December with Christmas, it wouldn’t get as much publicity. The gift-giving has some traditional history, but I think it mostly came from presents that are given for Christmas.”

Figler said that there is a Jewish figure known as “Hanukkah Harry,” who is similar to the Christian Santa Claus. According to the tale, Hanukkah Harry delivers presents to children each night of Hanukkah.

“Christmas and Hanukkah really have nothing in common. People just make connections,” Figler said. “I think a lot of time it’s for Jewish children.”

Ron Wolfson, vice president of the American Jewish University, said in his book “Hanukkah: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration,” Jews can appreciate Christmas without making it their own.

“Christmas is someone else’s party, not ours,” Wolfson said in the book. “Just as we can appreciate someone else’s birthday and be happy for them, we can wonder at how beautiful Christmas is, but it is not our party.”

The celebration of Hanukkah will end at sundown Tuesday night.

Contact religion reporter Courtney Cook at [email protected].