Hanukkah occurs on 25th day of Kislev, the Jewish month which is based upon the lunar calendar and begins on a different date every year. The Feast of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah), sometimes called the "Feast of Lights", lasts for eight days. This year it starts on December 1st, and ends at sundown on December 9th. It celebrates the victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over a much a larger force of Greeks led by King Antiochus over 2000 years ago. The word Hanukkah means dedication. The holiday marks how a small amount of oil lasted eight days during the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem after it was desecrated by the Greeks. The Jewish people celebrate the holiday by lighting candles in a Hanukkah "menorah" for each of eight nights and eating traditional foods fried in oil. These traditional Hanukkah foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts). Kids often play a game involving a dreidel (a spinning top) and chocolate gelt (money). The menorah used for Hanukkah is called a "Chanukiah" and is supposed to represent the menorah that stood in the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem more than 2000 years ago. The Chanukiah has nine branches, for eight candles and a helper candle used to light the other candles. There is another menorah with seven branches that has been a symbol of Judaism since ancient times and the emblem of the modern state of Israel.
In Mexico Hanukkah is written "Janucá,". The Mexican Jewish Hanukkah customs are very similar to those of Jews elsewhere except that the food may be a little different. Instead of latkes and sufganiot which are common among the Ashkenazic Jews of Russia and Eastern Europe, the Sephardic Jews of Mexico tend to favor things like "buñuelos" which are fried fritters drenched in sugar syrup and also balls of corn dough with marmalade inside. Like their Jewish counterparts around the world they play the game of "dreidel" which they call "toma todo" and they call the dreidel top a "pirinola". To make their holiday really special and authentically Mexican the add a Mexican "piñata" in the shape of the dreidel top to the festivities.
There have been Jews in Mexico dating back to as early as 1521, when Hernan Cortes conquered the Aztecs, accompanied by several Jews who had temporarily "Christianized" in order to avoid the Spanish Inquisition. Many other Jews also eventually fled Spain and settled in Mexico in order to escape the Inquisition. Some of these Spanish or "Sephardic" Jews were forced to convert to Catholicism and were called "Converso" Jews, while other maintained their Jewish religious practices in secret to avoid being persecuted and they are known as "Crypto" Jews.
Few Jews migrated to Mexico after the conquest was complete and Spanish Inquisition became firmly entrenched and rigidly enforced in what was then called New Spain. Then, in the late 1800s, a number of German Jews settled in Mexico as a result of invitations from Maximilian I of Mexico, followed by a huge wave of Ashkenazic Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe. A second large wave of immigration occurred as the Ottoman Empire collapsed, leading many Sephardic Jews from Turkey, Morocco, and parts of France to flee. Finally, a wave of immigrants fled the increasing Nazi persecutions in Europe during World War II.
Today, there are about 50,000 Jews living freely in Mexico and openly practicing their ancient religion. I hope they all enjoy their Hanukka festival. Happy Hanukka to everyone!!!