Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday also known as the “Festival of Lights”. It celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 162 BCE after a successful uprising against Syrian-Greek forces. On the first night of Hanukkah, Jews all over the world light candles on a special nine-branch candelabrum called a menorah, or hannukiah. So, how many candles do you light on the first night of Hanukkah?
In the traditional Jewish liturgy, a total of eight lights are kindled. The procedure is the same on all eight nights of Hanukkah. On the first night, one candle is lit on the hannukiah. On the second night, two candles are lit and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth and last night.
In some Sephardic (Spanish/Mediterranean Jewish) families, an additional candle is lit to honor the prophet Elijah.
The Meaning Behind Lighting the Hanukkah Candles
The eight lights on the Hanukkah menorah represent the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Temple when it was rededicated. The main Hanukkah blessing is said over the first candle, and a shorter blessing is said over each additional candle. After the blessings, a song is sung called “Ma’oz Tzur” which celebrates God’s redemption of the Jewish people.
Traditionally Lighting the Hanukkah Candles
Traditionally, it is preferable to light the Hanukkah candles at nightfall, but if that is not feasible, it is perfectly acceptable to light the candles anytime after sunset. The candles should be lit one at a time, beginning with the leftmost light and working to the right. It is customary to use the shamash (special Hanukkah candle) to “light” the others, although a match or lighter can be used instead.
The Hanukkah lights must burn for at least half an hour, and the blessing should be said while the lights are still burning. It is preferable to place the Hanukkah lights near the front window of the house, so that others can see the lights and be reminded of the wonders of this special holiday.
No matter how many candles you light on the first night of Hanukkah, the true meaning of the holiday is to remember and celebrate the miracles of Jewish history. From lighting the menorah to spinning the dreidel, from eating latkes to exchanging gifts, the important thing is to observe the tradition and the specialness of the eight days of Hanukkah.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.