until December 2nd, 2018
Hanukkah Facts and History
Hanukkah is a religious holiday celebrated by Jews around the world. The event is usually held in late November to December. Because the date is usually within a few weeks of the Christian holiday of Christmas, it has become a part of the celebration of winter holidays in western countries.
When Is Hanukkah?
The dates for Hanukkah change every year because the timing is not determined by the western calendar. Instead, the date is determined by the Jewish calendar, which does not follow the same system for numbering the days as the standard calendar. According to tradition, Hanukkah starts at sundown on the 25th day of the month of Kislev and is celebrated for eight consecutive nights.
What Does Hanukkah Celebrate?
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Chanukah and the Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees, a group of Jewish freedom fighters who led a successful revolt against Antiochus, a foreigner who ruled Israel under a harsh set of laws during the 2nd century BC. Although there were significantly fewer fighters in their cause, the Maccabees were able to retake the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
When they found the temple, it has been ravaged by Antiochus’ troops, but they were able to find oil to light a lantern, so that they could read the torah, the holy book of the Jews, together. Although there was only enough oil to last for a single night, the lantern managed to burn for eight nights. The Jews see this as a miracle and believe it was a sign that God was on the side of the Maccabees. Hanukkah is celebrated to keep the memory of this miracle alive and also to honor the heroic feat of the Maccabees.
Some common Hanukkah traditions include:
- Lighting the Menorah. On each night of Hanukkah, Jewish families light a candelabra called the menorah. The menorah has one central candle called the shammus and eight additional candles–four on each side. Each night the family adds one candle to the menorah moving from right to left and then lights the candles that are in place from left to right. The act is meant to symbolize each of the eight nights that the lantern burned in the temple. Every night the shammus candle is lit while the family recites prayers.
- Eating Fried Foods. Fried potato pancakes called latkes, fried sufganyot jelly-filled pastries and other fried foods are usually eaten during Hanukkah as a reminder of the oil that lit the lantern.
- Spinning Dreidels. Small spinning tops are often played with during Hanukkah celebrations. The tradition arises from the fact that the Jews living under Antioch’s rule often pretended to gamble with the tops while they were actually reading the torah.
- Eating Chocolate Coins. Chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil are often eaten as treats at Hanukkah. The coins are meant to symbolize the fact that after the Maccabees won independence for Israel, Jewish Kings were able to return to power and mint money.
- Exchanging Gifts. While gift giving is not as important to Hanukkah as it is to Christmas, many families will exchange one gift per night throughout the holiday.