04 December 2007

Hanukkah in Mexico

For all of my friends out there who may happen to be Jewish I wish you a Happy and Blessed Hanukkah season and to all of my friends who aren't Jewish here are some things that you should know about Hanukka:

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 at sundown tonight, December 4th, and ends at sundown on Dec. 12. It celebrates the victory of a group of Jews, 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 foods fried in oil. 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. The more traditional menorah has seven branches.

In Mexico Hanukkah is written "Januca,". The 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!!!


jp 吉平 said...


Hope you had a wonderjul Januka! There's been a Chistmas card for you sitting on my desk for a week now, I was waiting for you to send me your address, so I could get the team to sign it for you. I'm not sure where to get a Januka card in this town, but I guess it's too late!

My Spanish prof from college is a Sephardic from Guadalajara. Just thinking about buñuelos again makes my diabetes hurt! : )

Anonymous said...

Bob, you ol' perro! You have a preternatural knack for coming up with fascinating topics and writing eloquently about'em. I just now finished watching a wonderful YouTube piece on the Jewish community in Beijing (who knew?) and now I get to learn about the Spanish side. Boy, it can't be easy keeping kosher in Mexico; all those wonderful pork dishes.

Take care, my friend!

C. M. said...

Thank you for the info. It dawned on me that there was a connection when I was teaching a lesson on Hanukkah and the dreidel game. I noticed the rules to playing were very similar to the game I played when I was a child. Even though I am not Jewish I still played it and enjoyed the game very much. What a small world!

Bob Mrotek said...

It's a small world indeed, C.M. and getting smaller all the time. Thanks for your comment!

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.