Many families across San Antonio will be celebrating Christmas Eve Saturday with family and friends, drinking egg nog, and feasting next to a Christmas tree adorned with lights and sparkling ornaments. Members of San Antonio’s Jewish community also will take part in their own cultural and religious celebration on the same night.
To create more awareness about the Jewish faith, Congregation Agudas Achim, a Conservative Jewish community on the city’s Northside, is working with kids to give them the tools to talk about Hanukkah with their classmates at school. When other classmates ask with surprise, “You don’t celebrate Christmas?” Congregation Agudas Achim youth can explain the significance of the menorah and the miracle it represents.
Hanukkah celebrates the triumph of the Jewish people over religious persecution. In 166 B.C., a small group of Jews called the Maccabees rebelled against Syrian King Antiochus IV after he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered Jews to worship Greek gods. After the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem from the Syrians, they rededicated their temple. In order to purify the temple, the Maccabees wanted to burn ritual oil on the temple’s menorah for eight days. Only one small jar of oil was found, enough for one day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days.
To commemorate this event, Jews light the first candle on the first day the menorah was lit and continue lighting one additional candle every day until the eighth day. Jews typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah in a window to remind others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.
During Hanukkah, traditional foods like latkes and sufganiyot, which are fried in oil, are customary in many Jewish households, and families also exchange gifts and play with spinning tops called dreidels.
On Dec. 28, the Jewish community in San Antonio will have a chance to commemorate the holiday on the San Antonio River. Chanukah on the River will take place the Arneson River Theater at La Villita from 4-5 p.m. The celebration will feature an interactive boat ride, a grand menorah lighting, and a concert by SoulFarm rock band. The boat ride is $8 and includes donuts, prizes, chanukah challenges, and more. To buy tickets, click here.