“Strange” International Facts About Hanukkah and Christmas
Jews might be surprised to learn about some Hanukkah and Christmas customs that take place in countries other than their own. For example:
- In nineteenth-century Alsace (a region of France), two-tiered menorahs holding sixteen candles were used: one tier for the father, the other for his son.
- In Morocco, Algeria, and sometimes India, menorahs used to be hung from hooks on walls.
- Also in Morocco, Sfenj donuts flavored with orange juice and orange zest are a favored Hanukkah food.
- In Yemen and North Africa, the seventh night of Hanukkah is a women’s holiday in honor of Hannah and Judith, two women who feature in Jewish literature from a few centuries before Christ and who are commemorated for standing firm in their faith.
- When nineteenth-century Persia came under Muslim rule, Jews would not light menorahs for fear of their Muslim neighbors. Instead, they would arrange small dishes of oil close by each other, making it easy to disperse the dishes around the house if a visitor should drop in.
- In Turkey, Jews sing a song called “Ocho Candelas,” or “Eight Candles.”
- In South Africa, Jews spend Christmas Day having a braai, the Afrikaans word for a barbecue.
- In Australia, people say “Mac-COBB-ee” instead of “MAC-ca-bee.”
- In Israel, the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham—“a great miracle happened there”—is replaced with Nes Gadol Hayah Po—“a great miracle happened here.”
- Also in Israel, a Hebrew version of Handel’s Messiah has been performed several times, produced by David Loden, an Israeli Messianic believer who is a composer and opera singer. What a great way to be reminded that Jesus was born in Israel—and that he is the Messiah for the Jews… and the whole world!
- Jayne Cohen, Jewish Holiday Cooking: A Food Lover’s Treasury of Classics and Improvisations (Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2008).
- Interviews with Jews for Jesus staff.
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich Robinson is a veteran missionary and senior researcher at the San Francisco headquarters of Jews for Jesus. Rich has written several books on Jewishness and Jesus, and he received his Ph.D. in biblical studies and hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.