How to Observe Hanukkah in Lafayette
The Festival of Lights is upon us and there are 8 nights to celebrate.
It was during university at Loyola in New Orleans when I first learned about Judaism in a course “Intro to Judaism” as part of my liberal arts education. I’ll never forget Rabbi Levy lecturing how annoyingly silly it was when people would tell him Happy Hanukkah in lieu of Merry Christmas as if it were the Jewish version of Christmas. Hannukah is generally celebrated in December, though sometimes starts in November – like this year – so it’s understandable how people may be confused. While the holiday greetings are all meant with the best intentions, here is a cheat sheet to broaden your knowledge of this religious holiday and get it right.
Whether you are Jewish looking for resources in Lafayette to celebrate or want to explore the customs and traditions of Hanukkah, this is your local guide.
Is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?
The answer is that both are considered correct, though Hanukkah is the most widely used spelling, while Chanukah is more traditional. In short, it comes down to something called transliteration which is a written translation of a foreign language using sound when there is no shared alphabet. In this case, a Hebrew word is translated into the Latin alphabet and the phonetics of the translation could go either way. In English, we pronounce it with an H sound but in Hebrew, it’s a guttural, throaty sound that is difficult for most English speakers. Hence, Hanukkah is the more common English spelling and Chanukah is more traditional. If you want to dive deeper into this topic you can read more here.
No matter how you write it, when you want to greet a Jewish friend during the holiday you can say “Happy Hanukkah!” or “Chag Sameach!” (Happy Holiday).
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights and brings joy and brightness during a dark time of the year. This holiday commemorates a miracle that dates back to the second century BCE when the ancient Greeks ruled Judea and confiscated the Holy Temple. The small Jewish Maccabee army staged a successful revolt and when they took back the Holy Temple, they discovered that the ner tamid, the eternal light that burned continuously in the Temple, had gone out. They only had enough oil to relight the lamp for one day. Miraculously, the oil continued to burn for eight full days, the amount of time it took to obtain more oil. Then, as now, the flame lit up dark days, offering a symbol of hope.
When is Hanukkah?
The dates are different every year because it is determined by the Hebrew calendar. It begins on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which falls in November or December. This year Hanukkah is Sunday, November 28th thru Monday, December 6th, 2021.
Note: Jewish days start and end at sundown. Thus the holiday officially begins at sundown on November 28th and ends at sundown on December 6th but that last candle would be lit on the evening of December 5th.
Lighting the hanukkiah:
A hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah, holds nine candles — one for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, plus the shammash, or “helper,” which is used to light the other candles (the number of which increases each night of the holiday). Some families have one or one for each member of the family and they are displayed in windows.
Make your own lego hanukkiah with these ideas.
Eating Oily Food:
Here in south Louisiana, we have no shortage of oily foods. For some Cajun Jewish fusion ideas, instead of latkes, make patate boulettes like your Maw Maw did and try Hanukkah beignets instead of donuts.
Giving and Getting Gelt:
Gelt translates to money in Hebrew. For Hanukkah gelt is chocolate-shaped coins, wrapped in shiny gold foil and is given out to children.
Dreidel is a traditional game featuring a spinning top. It’s simple yet fun to play while the candles are burning. Like bourré, in order to participate, players add to the pot with money, peanuts or gelt!
Many families exchange gifts during Hanukkah too.
Celebrations in Lafayette:
At Temple Shalom in Downtown Lafayette, they invite the community, especially children, to observe a special service on the sixth night of Hanukkah, Friday, December 6, 2021. Festivities will include traditional snacks, candle lighting and fun Hanukkah songs followed by services. Festivities will begin around 6:30.
For the most up to date details, visit their Facebook page.
Spending time with loved ones is the best way to celebrate and commemorate a holiday of hope and miracles. Food, games and songs make it festive, but since it is eight nights, you can also opt for a few quiet evenings with Chai Films or books.
Happy Hanukkah Lafayette!
About Jenée Naquin
Jenée Naquin was raised in south Louisiana and cultivated in New York City. She returned to Lafayette amidst the pandemic joining leagues of the urban exodus. She was raised a Cajun Catholic and married a Brooklyn Jew. While working as a Brand Stylist for her company JSQ Creative Agency, she also is defining how to navigate a Cajun-Jewish household. She always makes time for a great adventure at home and afar, styles everything around her, never misses a holiday and regards family and tradition with the utmost respect.