The Significance Of Olive Oil During Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, is known for many things: latkes, jelly-filled sufganiyah, as well as the nightly lighting of the menorah. Other festivities include giving small gifts and spinning the dreidel. However, one central thread in many Hanukkah celebrations is the use of olive oil. Whether it is used to fry up latkes or in lighting the menorah, olive oil is key to many contemporary Hanukkah festivities.

This is no accident. Olive oil holds an important historical and religious significance to the holiday. However, to fully understand this connection, you must first travel to 164 BCE, for the first Hanukkah. The first Hanukkah occurred when the Maccabees reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the temple was destroyed by Greek and Syrian forces hoping to force the Jewish population to assimilate. When the Maccabees retook the temple, they got to work rededicating their place of worship. However, they had only one day's worth of purified oil to use, although eight days' worth of oil was needed for the ceremony.

As the story goes, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days, and that oil was none other than olive oil, the popular oil now used in so many dishes, including several Hanukkah treats. Olive oil is still central to Hanukkah celebrations around the world. Foods such as latkes are important to the holiday because of their oil-rich nature, which represents the miracle of the oil over the first Hanukkah. However, latkes aren't the only way to incorporate olive oil into Hanukkah celebrations.

Using olive oil to light the menorah

Even though olive oil was used at the first Hanukkah, most families now use candles made from either paraffin or beeswax. Over the centuries, menorah candles have also been made out of animal fat. However, if you want Hanukkah in a more traditional, or historically accurate way, you might want to consider using an olive oil menorah this year.

Olive oil menorahs are available to purchase online. However, you might also want to try crafting your own. This craft will require eight glass votives, olive oil, water, and floating wicks. You will also want a separate, taller votive and candle for your shamash, the candle that helps light the other eight lights throughout the holiday. Since the olive oil menorah uses, well, olive oil in the burning process, you will want to be extra careful in placing the menorah on a safe, sturdy surface.

This is a more involved process than using a wax candle menorah, however, using olive oil would help tie your celebration to the very first Hanukkah when a single day's worth of olive oil stretched long enough to rededicate a raided Temple to religious use. This original Hanukkah story reminds one of the profound potential of something as basic as olive oil can bring light to darkness. But, if using an olive oil menorah isn't ideal for you, there are other (more delicious) ways to utilize olive oil during your Hanukkah celebrations.

And cook up some treats

Let's go beyond latkes and sufganiyah for Hanukkah. There are plenty of other olive and olive oil-based treats for you to enjoy during the Festival of Lights. Making a pan of Foccacia, for example, can be the perfect treat for the holiday. Focaccia is a bread that utilizes large amounts of olive oil and makes for the perfect size to soak up juices from a well-cooked brisket. And if you want to get creative, you can add Hanukkah-themed designs on the top of your Focaccia for a particularly festive twist.

And speaking of twists, an olive oil martini might just be the perfect drink to enjoy during Hanukkah. For this cocktail, you will want to use a high-quality olive oil and use it to make an olive oil-washed spirit. And if you're not a fan of the traditional Hanukkah jelly-filled doughnut, you can also try making an olive oil-based cake, such as a lemon olive oil cake. With olive oil, it does seem that a little bit goes a very long way.