Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday evening (18 December) sees the start of Hanukkah, the eight-night-and-day festival of the Jewish faith.

Based around the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah can take place any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian (Western) calendar.

Hanukkah commemorates the re-taking of Jerusalem from Greek-Syrian imperial forces, and the re-dedication of its Second Temple by the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors, in around 164 BCE.  ‘Hanukkah’ is the Hebrew word for ‘dedication’.

To mark the eight days of the festival, at sunset, a candle is lit on a menorah, a candelabrum which holds nine candles.  Eight of the candles represent the Hanukkah Miracle: the legend being that, despite the warriors only having a day’s worth of olive oil, their flames continued to flicker for eight nights.  The nunth candle is to provide the flame to light the other eight.

Hanukkah is a major Jewish event, marked by music, foods fried in oil (to recall the miracle) and customs such as spinning the dreidel, a spinning toy with four sides, similar to a dice.

“Happy Hanukkah!” is the most common greeting to anyone celebrating this festival but if you want to say it in Hebrew, try “Hanukkah Sameach!” – or simply “Chag Sameach!”, which simply means “Happy Holidays!”

Dharma Day

Asalha Puja – more commonly known as Dharma Day – is a Buddhist festival which this year will be celebrated on Sunday 24 July, the day of the full moon in the month of July.

Dharma Day marks the beginning of Buddha’s teaching, following his own enlightenment, around 2,500 years ago.  Buddhists believe that he told five disciples about his own experience with a sermon, known as ‘The First Turning of the Wheel of Dharma’.

In that sermon, Buddha is said to have included his Four Noble Truths, which are central to Buddhism.

Dharma is an ancient component of Indian philosophy which is key to the various religions that have grown from that region.  

Although Dharma Day is celebrated by Buddhists, the principles of Dharma are also important to Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism.  Its symbolic representation, the Wheel of Dharma, is significant to all these religions, originating from the Indian sub-continent.  As such, it can be seen as a unifying symbol across India, which is why it appears on the flag of India.

On Dharma Day, Buddhists express gratitude for the knowledge and enlightenment shared by Buddha and those who have shared his teachings and reflect on them.  To non-Buddhists, it’s also a chance to consider how the Four Noble Truths and other Buddhist principles can be adopted into day-to-day life.

If you’d like to try out one of Buddhism’s most widely-known practices, this five-minute mediation exercise is a great starting point.  If you haven’t got time right now, you can also find this link on our Mental Wellbeing page.