Hanukkah – also called the ‘Festival of Lights’ (also romanized as Chanukah or Ḥanukah) is an eight day festival which begins on 25 Kislev of the Jewish calendar. It celebrates two miracles – a great Jewish military victory and a miraculous supply of oil for the Temple.
One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second night, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night.
Hanukkah is a time to celebrate with family and friends, to eat holiday treats, to give gifts (especially to children) and to play the dreidel game.
Hanukkah is one of the happier Jewish festivals. It has several meanings:-
- The first is religious liberty for the right of people to celebrate their holy days, worship freely, and to practice their faith. That right is being challenged even today —and, in some countries, Christians are more threatened than Jews. This is something Christians and Jews ought to be able to do, and can, work on together.
- Second, the Jews’ rededication of the Temple after it was defiled should remind us that each of us is a small temple, with God’s presence in our hearts. And we need to rededicate ourselves to God —to purify our hearts, to change.
- Third, Hanukkah teaches us that it’s everyone’s duty to separate and pull out the good parts of the culture.
- The final dimension is trust in God. It took great faith for the Maccabees to rise up against this great Hellenist society. And it also took great courage and great trust to light that first candle, knowing that it would go out in 24 hours.
During Hanukkah, for the undying spirit, people lit up the candles i.e. the menorah — one candle each night representing the miracle of that day, so that by the end of the eight-day holiday eight candles are lit. The menorah is placed near windows so that people can see the miracle that happened here.
There is also a custom of giving gifts, especially to children.
Because it falls so close to Christmas, Hanukkah carries with it a message of hope, miracles, and bringing light into the world that is embraced by both Christians and Jews.
- Day 1 — Rededication
- Day 2 — The Light of Hope
- Day 3 — Be a Maccabee
- Day 4 — Be a Source of Light
- Day 5 — Take the Time to See the Light
- Day 6 — Seeing in the Dark
- Day 7 — Spiritual Victories
- Day 8 — A Season of Miracles
As with most Jewish holidays, food plays an important role in the celebration. In honor of the oil-y miracle at the center of Hanukkah — the story of the lamp in the Temple burning bright for eight days even though there was only enough fuel for one day — Jews eat oily foods like latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly-filled doughnuts).
- Olive Oil Cake
- Traditional Potato Latkes
- Sweet Potato Latkes
- Fried Sweet Dough
The dreidel, or sevivon in Hebrew, is a four-sided spinning top that children play with during Hanukkah. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter. These letters are an abbreviation for the Hebrew words נס גדול היה שם (Nes Gadol Haya Sham, “A great miracle happened there”) referring to the miracle of the oil that took place in the ‘Beit Hamikdash.’
Hanukkah gelt (Yiddish for “money”), known as dime Hanukkah in Israel, is often distributed to children during the festival of Hanukkah. The giving of Hanukkah gelt also adds to the holiday excitement. The amount is usually in small coins, although grandparents or relatives may give larger sums.