BANGOR, Maine — Mike Mains does not see Hanukkah and Christmas in competition with each other.
“I see a lot of commonality in the way people celebrate the holiday,” Mains of Bar Harbor said Sunday during the 19th Annual Marketplace & Craft Fair at Beth Israel synagogue. “I don’t see them as competing interests.”
The Jewish and Christian holidays both emphasize family, food, light, miracles and the exchanging of gifts.
“Any holiday where people are nice to each other is good,” Mains said.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judah 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.
The holiday lasts eight days, with an additional candle in a menorah lit each night by the shamash, or, servant candle, and includes the exchanging of gifts.
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 and 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.
Beth Israel’s first marketplace nearly two decades ago began as a congregational Hanukkah party, Nanci Miller, who helped organize this year’s event, said Sunday. The bazaar, where members of Bangor’s Jewish community also could buy menorahs, candles, dreidels, chocolate coins and Judaica — items that were not available in retail stores in Maine — was added the following year.
“We did that for five or six years, but we had craft people within the [Jewish] community and decided to open the event up to craft people within the Bangor community because whatever your holiday is people like crafts and to purchase unique, fun items,” Miller, a soapmaker who lives in Mariaville, said.
The Marketplace & Craft Fair is sponsored by the Sisterhood of Beth Israel, according to Miller. The money raised at the event goes to support Bangor’s only Conservative synagogue, its Hebrew School and kosher kitchen.
It has tripled in size over the years, she said. This year, four of the 20 or so crafters are Jewish.
Ben Cyr of Bangor said he came to Beth Israel for the falafel offered along with latkes and fish chowder at the Cafe Kolbo in the synagogue’s basement.
“It’s something you can’t really get around here,” he said of the Middle Eastern dish served in a pita pocket. A falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas, fava beans or both.
Latkes, pancakes made out of potatoes and fried in oil and the food most associated with Hanukkah, are popular with shoppers, Miller said.
“And, it’s for a good cause,” Mains said of the Marketplace & Craft Fair.
Hanukkah began at sundown Saturday, Dec. 8, and will end at sundown Saturday, Dec. 15.