The Festival of Lights, Hanukkah, is known for its beautiful, burning candles. But how many of them are actually used throughout the eight-day long celebration? Hanukkah is a ancient Jewish holiday that is celebrated during winter time. The religious observance is linked to the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek forces in the second century BCE and the rededication of the Second Temple. While celebrating this event, many ceremonially light a nine-branched Menorah. The Menorah features eight candleholders (also known as “branches”) plus a ninth holder, in the middle, serving as a helper or “shamash”.
The Nine-Branch Menorah
The Menorah is lit every night during Hanukkah as a way of reiterating the miracle that happened during the holiday season. According to Jewish legend, when the Maccabees defeated the Syrian-Greeks, there was only enough oil to burn the Menorah for one night; yet, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights. Therefore, the ninth candle is also lit each night during Hanukkah and is known as the Shamash. The Shamash is lit before the other eight candles and is then used to kindle the other eight. This special candle must be left burning throughout the night so that the other candles may remain lit.
What Kind of Candles are Used?
Traditionally, a special type of wax candle with a cotton wick known as a “Hanukkiah” or “Hanukkah Menorah” is used. Though today, Hanukkah candles come in a range of shapes and sizes, in the olden days these candles were made from beeswax. Technically, you need only one kind of candle to light the entire Menorah, though many Jews like to light one kind of candle on the first night, the second on the second night and so on.
Lighting the Menorah
The Hanukkah Menorah should be lit towards the door and from left to right. The blessings should also be said with the lighting:
“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.”
The Menorah should be placed in an area that is clearly visible, usually in the entrance of one’s house, for maximum disclosure. On the first night of Hanukkah one candle is lit, and on the second night two are lit, and so on, until the eighth night of Hanukkah, when all the candles are lit. Usually, the Hanukkiah should be placed on the left side when looking towards it.
Therefore, on the eight nights of Hanukkah, a total of forty-five candles are lit. This includes eight regular Hanukkah candles plus the Shamash. As many Hanukkah Menorahs have a total of nine candle holders, one may think that the Shamash should be counted as a regular Hanukkah candle, making the total forty-six. However, this is not the case, and the Shamash is not meant to serve as a Hanukkah candle since its only purpose is to kindle the other eight.
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate the miracles of the Maccabee victory as well as a reminder of the dedication of the Second Temple — and this is what makes Hanukkah such a memorable holiday. As the candles are lit throughout the eight nights, they serve as a symbol of the freedom that Jews have after winning the battle so many years ago.
Hanukkah has many traditions and customs — one of which is the consistent lighting of candles, in remembrance of the battle between the Maccabees and Syrian-Greeks. Each night, an additional candle is lit in the Menorah. The total number of candles lit throughout the entire eight days of celebration is forty-five. The Shamash candle is meant for igniting the other eight candles, and is not meant to serve as a regular Hanukkah candle.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.