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Hanukkah

Jews light one candle on the menorah for each night of the celebration.  Clipart.

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.

The Jewish Holiday of Hanukkah
 
Hanukah. 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.

The History of Hanukkah
Almost 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.


Celebrating Hanukkah
 The menorah, or Hanukiyah, is a key symbol of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights
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.

Ideally, 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 line.
 
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.

Blessings for The Festival of Lights
On 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.
 
First Blessing
Baruch ata 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.)
 
Second Blessing:
Baruch ata 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 season).
 
Third Blessing:
Baruch ata 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.)



Popular Jewish Traditions

Hanukkah is an important event, and a wide variety of traditions surround the holiday, most of which are connected

with 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
Gelt are 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 dreidel.
 
The History of the Dreidel
When the 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 and shin) 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 Dreidels used  in play on Hanukkahto say "A great miracle happened here" (nun, gimel, hey and peh).
 
There 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.



More on Hanukkah
Holiday Crafts

Playing Dreidel
To 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.

Nun is one of the four symbols on a dreidel

Gimel is one of the four symbols on a dreidel

Nun

Gimel

Nothing happens. The next player spins.

The player wins the pot.

Hey is one of the four symbols on a dreidel

Shin is one of the four symbols on a dreidel


Peh is one of the four symbols on a dreidel

Hey

Shin or Peh

The player wins half the pot.

The player must match the pot.