BANGOR, Maine — Jews throughout Maine tonight will light the first candle in their menorahs to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.
The celebration, also called the Festival of Lights, will last eight days and end with the lighting of the eighth candle on Friday, Dec. 18.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 B.C. after the temple had been destroyed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria. The oil found in the temple should have lasted just one day but miraculously burned for eight.
It is a minor religious holiday, but its December celebration has given it more significance as a cultural tradition, especially in Western countries, where Christmas and all its religious and secular trappings dominate public and private activities.
The first Hanukkah gifts were in the form of coins, nuts or sweets that families in Eastern Europe used hundreds of years ago as they played with the dreidel. Spinning the dreidel, or top, is a popular Hanukkah game in which each player takes turns trying to acquire the treats heaped in the kitty.
Potato pancakes fried in oil and served with sour cream and applesauce are the traditional food associated with the holiday.
Members of Congregation Beth El, 183 French St., will bring their favorite menorahs to the synagogue at 7 p.m. today. They will be placed on a large table covered with foil, then lit all at once to illuminate the darkened shul. Beth El’s Religious School holiday party will be at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Congregation Beth Israel, 144 York St., will hold its Hebrew School Hanukkah Party at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
The last Hanukkah party during Gov. John Baldacci’s tenure will be held at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Blaine House. The event is a custom begun in 1994 by former first lady Mary Herman and her husband, then-Gov. Angus King,
Baldacci and first lady Karen Baldacci will be hosts for the event, which draws Jews from all over the state to the governor’s mansion.