Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish festival of lights.
The festival begins on the 25th day of Kislev (this year 8th
December) and is celebrated for eight days. In the western calendar
Hanukkah is celebrated in November or December.
The word Hanukkah means dedication and commemorates the Jews'
struggle for religious freedom.
Jews believe they are celebrating a miracle, as the festival marks
the the victory of the Jews (led by Judah Maccabee) over the Syrians
after a three year war in 165 BCE. It is also at this time that the
Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Once the war was over, the Jews decided to repair the temple and
have a dedication ceremony.
As part of the celebrations a menorah (candelabra) was lit and although
there was only enough oil to light the menorah for a day, it stayed
alight for eight days.
It is because of this miracle that Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting
an extra candle each night for eight nights. On day one, the first
candle is lit; on the second night Jews light two candles, and the
pattern continues. By the eighth night, all eight candles are lit.
Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah
Chanukah. Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights. It's one of the most
important of the Jewish holidays. The holiday goes back almost 2,400
years, and celebrates one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history.
It takes place every year in mid to late December. While its date
varies if you go by the western calendar, in the Hebrew calendar
Hanukkah always falls on the 25th day of Kislev.
History of Hanukkah
two and a half millennia ago, Judea was ruled by Antiochus, a Syrian
king. He attempted to assimilate the Jews into Greek culture,
commanding them to worship Greek gods while oppressing Jewish culture
and religion. Many Jews refused to do so. Led by Judah Maccabee and his
brothers, the Jewish people, after a three-year struggle, overthrew
their Syrian oppressors.
When Jerusalem's Temple was
reclaimed, the Hebrews found it defiled by statues of the Greek gods
and other religious artifacts. They cleared out the foreign icons and
rededicated the temple on the 25th day of Kislev. As part of their
campaign of oppression, the Greeks had systematically defiled any
Jewish religious item they could find. So when the time came to light
the N'er Tamid, the Eternal Light of the Temple, the Jews could
find only one sanctified jar of oil—marked with the seal of the
High Priest. It was enough to last one evening. The lamp was lit with
this small jar of oil and, miraculously, stayed lit for eight days,
until more oil suitable for the temple was found.
The eight days of
Hanukkah are times of rejoicing, which is reflected in the original
meaning of the term Chanu Kaf-Hay, the 25th day they rested.
Hanukkah itself means "dedication." Hallel, or praise, is
recited during the morning prayers of all eight days, and grace, or birkat
hamazon, is said after each meal. Friends and family exchange
gifts, put up Hanukkah decorations and light the Hanukkah Menorah.
The Festival of Lights
The menorah, or Hanukiyah, holds nine candles. Eight
candles represent the eight days of Hanukkah, and the ninth, the Shamash,
is used to light the other candles. The candles are kindled from left
to right, with one candle for each day of the festival, so that as
every day passes, the menorah becomes brighter and brighter.
a menorah should be kindled with olive oil and cotton wicks, as olive
oil was used to light the Eternal Light. Wax candles are perfectly
acceptable, however, and most Menorahs are lit with candles. Although
the menorah may be made of wood, glass or metal, in all cases it should
be attractive, and the eight Hanukkah candles must be in a straight
Blessings are said before the candles (three
blessings on the first night, and two every night thereafter). The
candles' light is not to be used for any other purpose other than
contemplation of the miracle of Hanukkah—they should not be used
to read by, or for any other secular function. The kindled menorah is
displayed prominently in a front window or near a doorway and remains
lit for at least half an hour after nightfall.
The Festival of Lights
all eight days of Hanukkah two special blessings are said before the
kindled menorah. On the first day of Hanukkah, a third is added to
recognize the beginning of the Hanukkah season.
Adonai elohanu melech ha olam, asher kiddishanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu
l'hadlik ner shel Hanukkah. (Blessed
are you our God, Ruler of the world, who makes us holy through your
mitzvoth, and commands us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.)
Adonai elohanu melech ha olam, she asa nisim l'avoteinu, bayamim
ha-hem, bazman ha zeh. (Blessed are you our God, Ruler of the
world, who worked miracles for our ancestors in days long ago at this
Adonai, elohanu melech ha olam, sheheheyanu, v'kiyimanu, v'higiyanu,
lazman ha zeh. (Blessed are you our God, Ruler of the world, who
has given us life, sustained us, and has brought us to this season.)
Hanukkah is an
important event, and a wide variety of traditions surround the holiday,
most of which are connected
the events of 2,500 years ago. For instance, women do not perform
household tasks for the first half-hour after the Menorah candles are
lit, in recognition of the suffering Jewish women received at the hands
of the Syrians.
The Tradition of Gelt
chocolate coins often given as presents in place of, or with, real
money to children at Hanukkah. The coins are often given as rewards for
studying well, and as such, are connected to the tradition of the
The History of the Dreidel
Syrians occupied Judea, Jewish children were forbidden to study the
Torah. When children defied this edict, they often studied in secret,
and pretended to play the dreidel game when Syrian soldiers passed by.
The four symbols on the dreidel (nun, gimel, hey
announce, "A great miracle happened there," so even this simple toy
reminds the children of the reason for Hanukkah. In Israel, the symbols
are changed to say "A great miracle
happened here" (nun, gimel, hey and peh).
is another meaning to the letters on the dreidel. In mystical Kabbalah
teachings, each stands for one of the four empires that have tried to
destroy the Jewish people: Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman.
play with a dreidel, each person antes up something into the pot, often
pennies or chocolate gelt. Then a player spins the dreidel. When the
dreidel stops, the letter on top determines the next step for that
player. When the pot is empty the game is over.
The next player spins.
The player wins
half the pot.
The player must
match the pot.