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Celebrating Hanukkah in Tudor England

Hanukkah candles
Hanukkah candles (image credit RonAlmog from Israel)

I admit, the title is somewhat misleading: technically, Hanukkah was not celebrated in Tudor England because Jews had been expelled from the land some 300 years earlier (and would not be formally allowed back until the mid-seventeenth century). And yet, there were Jews living in Tudor England – we know of a community of Italian musicians that served Henry VIII, we know of Portuguese doctors, like Roderigo Lopez who was Elizabeth I’s principal physician (until Essex accused him of treason…). Of course, they would have been forced to convert, or at least convince everyone they had, so Hanukkah celebrations would have been conducted in secrecy. Meaning that as they added candles to the menorah each night, the celebrants might have been too worried about adding to the danger of discovery to fully appreciate the metaphor of increasing light and joy in the world.

And most of their celebrations would not have involved latkes – since potatoes did not make it to England until late in Elizabeth’s reign. That said, they did have a way of honoring the tradition of eating foods fried in oil (to commemorate the triumph of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days): fried cheese and fried cheese pastries…

Happy Hanukkah! I for one am very happy to be celebrating in these times and not five hundred years ago (while the cheese thing might be tempting, that is also still done today). May all our lights safely shine more brightly each day.

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Published inTudor Tidbits

3 Comments

  1. Patricia Patricia

    Terribly ironic that as the English celebrated one religion, they stifled other religions. Terribly ironic that it remains so today with some not being afforded the right to their beliefs.
    Fried cheese? I’ll pass.
    Happy Hanukkah!

  2. Eileen Kontrovitz Eileen Kontrovitz

    It was a dangerous thing to be Jewish in England at that time, not as much as in Spain but dangerous still. No Christian religion practiced tolerance and actively blamed the Jews for the death of Jesus. Not so different in some places today. I hope my fellow religious had a happy Hanukkah this year.

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