Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. It is also known as the Festival of Lights. Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar which corresponds to late November – late December on the Gregorian calendar. The holiday celebrates the miraculous victory of the Maccabees over the Greek-Syrian armies, as told in the Book of Maccabees. The festival is celebrated with special prayers, special songs and lighting the Menorah, a special eight-branched candelabrum.
Hanukkah traditions are designed to bring joy and light to an otherwise dark part of the year. They bring together family and friends to celebrate the miracle of the Maccabees’ victory, and acknowledge the gift of religious freedom. It is a joyous time with parties, special meals, and lots of gifts.
There are a few traditions that are uniquely observed during Hanukkah.
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Lighting The Menorah
Each night of Hanukkah, a special candelabrum called a menorah is lit. The menorah has nine branches – eight representing the eight days of the Hanukkah celebrations, and an extra branch for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other candles. A special prayer is recited and one candle in the menorah is lit each night.
The popular Hanukkah game, Dreidel, is played with a four-sided spinning top decorated with Hebrew characters נ, ג, ה, ש. It is a forfeit game played with coins, candy or other small trinkets. Each person puts one item into the center “pot” and takes turns spinning the Dreidel. Depending on the side facing up when the Dreidel stops spinning, the participants may be rewarded, get nothing or have to add more items to the pot.
Throughout the Hanukkah festival, special songs and hymns are sung. Adon Olam, Haneirot Halalu, Ma’oz Tzur and other songs of rejoice and praise are chanted in honor of the festival.
The tradition of gifting Hanukkah gelt dates back hundreds of years. Gelt, or money, in the form of coins or chocolate is given to children as a reward for their studies in Hebrew and attending synagogue.
Gifts and Celebrations
The highlight of Hanukkah is the special food, parties, and gifts that are exchanged among family and friends. Family dinners include special recipes such as potato pancakes (latkes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts). Gifts are exchanged on Hanukkah as a reminder of the miracle of victory.
Hanukkah is a joyous time to celebrate and to remember the miracles of the past. It is a time to be together with family and friends and to acknowledge the gift of religious freedom. Through the festivities of lighting the Menorah, playing Dreidel, singing special prayers and songs, and exchanging gifts, Hanukkah remains a cherished tradition that brings light to the world.
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Last update 2023-11-26. Price and product availability may change.