Hanukkah begins this year at sundown on Nov. 28. Photo: Adobe Stock

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

The eight-day holiday commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE, after a small army led by Judah the Maccabee drove the Greeks from Israel and reclaimed the temple. When they lit the temple’s menorah — a candelabra — they found only a one-day supply of olive oil that had not been contaminated by the Greeks. Miraculously, that one-day supply of oil lasted eight days, until a new supply of ritually pure oil could be prepared.

The nightly menorah lighting is at the heart of the holiday. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, one flame is lit. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night, all eight flames are lit.

Special blessings are recited, often to a traditional melody, before the menorah is lit, and traditional songs are sung afterward, according to chabad.org.

A menorah is lit in every household and placed in a doorway or window. The menorah is also lit in synagogues and other public places.

Riverhead has a menorah on the Peconic Riverfront which is lit for Hanukkah each year, beginning with a community celebration hosted by Temple Israel. The menorah-lighting ceremony takes place today at 5 p.m. The event is open to the public and all are welcome. Mask and social distancing protocols will apply.

Hanukkah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 and continues for eight days. Since the Jewish calendar is lunar-based, the 25th day of Kislev falls on different days, usually some time between late November and late December.

In addition to reciting special daily prayers during Hanukkah, Jews customarily celebrate the holiday with fried foods — since the Hanukkah miracle involved oil.

One classic food prepared at Hanukkah is the potato latke — potato pancake — garnished with applesauce or sour cream. Another favorite is a jelly-filled doughnut.

Another Hanukkah tradition is the giving of Hanukkah gelt, or money, to children. The purpose of this tradition is to teach children to give some of their money to charity. Hanukkah is also customarily a time for increased donations to charities.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.