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The Heritage Trails are presented courtesy of CKUA Radio Network and Cheryl Croucher

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Hanukkah in Alberta

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People of the Jewish faith first came to Alberta in the 1880s. Subsequent waves of immigrants settled in farming colonies in the corridor east of Vegreville, but most came to Edmonton or Calgary.

Surrounded by a dominant Christian culture, it's little wonder the Jewish festival of Hanukkah has taken on some of the trappings generally associated with Christmas.

That's the observation of David Goa of the Provincial Museum. He studies the role of myth, symbol and ritual in human culture.

In such communities, Hanukkah, since it falls at this time of year, and since it's also about light, had been pulled forward and articulated as a somewhat more significant festival, for at least many people in the Jewish communities to try and give some weight to the marvelous Jewish tradition in the face of the enormous civil images associated with the Christian festival.

Just as Santa has a sleigh, there's a Lubaviture rabbi with a Hanukkah van.

And this is a vehicle where he has a lamp which is associated with this miracle, mounted on top of the vehicle, and where he has lit that and, in his own way, processed through the streets, giving this feast a kind of public character, in the context of Edmonton.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of an ancient Jewish temple destroyed during war. A single container of holy oil found in the ruins lit the temple lamps for eight whole days. So, in Jewish homes, a lamp is lit each day for eight days, as a reminder of this miracle of light and triumph over [adversity].

In a blending of traditions, there's gift giving, along with feasting. And, according to David Goa, some Jewish homes even put up a tree.

Well, the Hanukkah bush. It looked, of course, for all the world like a spruce or evergreen or tree that many of their neighbors would have called a Christmas Tree. So there have, in some places, been an attempt to acculturate and make the tree into a kind of Hanukkah bush.

The blending of different traditions associated with mid-winter festivities like Hanukkah and Christmas celebrates the richness and vigorous evolution of Alberta's living history.

On the Heritage Trail,

I'm Cheryl Croucher.

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