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Hanukkah

Hanukkah

The Jewish Festival of Rededication, also called the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration that falls each year on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev, which generally falls in December in the Gregorian calendar. (In 2022, Hanukkah is December 18 through December 26.) Hanukkah, also called Chanukah, celebrates the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

When is Hanukkah 2022?

Hanukkah, which means ‘dedication’ in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the Menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts.

History of Hanukkah

The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where Jews had risen against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. This group of Jews is known as the Maccabees. The name was formed from the first letters of a Hebrew phrase, “Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem,” which translates to “Who is like You, God.”
The history of Hanukkah – much like the histories of many religious or ancient holidays – has different starting and ending points. However, the events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday occurred during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C., Judea — which is modern-day Israel/Palestine — came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion. However, his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent. Ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish faith and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.
In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee — ‘the Hammer — took the helm. The Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem within two years, relying primarily on guerilla warfare tactics. Nevertheless, the revolts were successful, and the Jews regained the right to practice their religion in their temples. To do so, Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Temple and light a menorah with oil that had been blessed by the high priest all night until the new altar could be built over the old one.
This is the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and was meant to be kept burning every night. But, there was only one flask of oil left that would only last for one night. So, they lit it anyway, and it stayed for eight days, the amount of time needed to press new oil.
According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the Menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This great event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.
The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament, in which Jesus attends a ‘Feast of Dedication.’

Hanukkah Timeline

165 BCE
The Maccabees Take Back the Temple
The revolt by the Maccabees in Jerusalem was ultimately successful, as they regained control of the Temple, creating the holiday.

1863
Thanksgivukkah
President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving the last Thursday in November, only to find that it overlapped that year with one of Hanukkah’s eight days.

1951
White House Chanukah
Hanukkah finally hits the White House as the then Prime Minister of Israel presents a menorah to President Truman.

1996
A Rugrats Chanukah
The popular kid’s show Rugrats featured a Hanukkah episode that was entertaining and wildly informative about how and why the holiday came to be.

Hanukkah Around The World

Hanukkah is a special day in Judaism that remembers a critical time in their faith during the holiday season. Here are some similar days from other religions across the globe.
Hanukkah Around the WorldCountryHolidayOccasionDate
India Diwali Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is a five-day-long Hindu holiday celebrating life and the victory of good over evil. Taking place in October or November, each day of Diwali has a different legend it celebrates, but the holiday is filled with fireworks, feasts, and family. The date of Diwali is determined based on the Hindu lunisolar calendar. November 14
Latin America, Mexico, Guatemala, Cuba, Spain, and Hispanics in the United States Las Posadas Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration before Christmas, beginning with a procession with candles, songs, and sometimes even people playing the parts of Mary and Joseph, who lead the parade. Every night of Las Posadas is celebrated with gifts, piñatas, songs, parties, tamales, and prayer. December 16-24
United States Kwanzaa In the United States, roughly five million people celebrate Kwanzaa yearly! Kwanzaa is a seven-day holiday that celebrates African culture. On the sixth day of Kwanzaa, there’s a Kwanzaa Karamu, which is a big feast. Gifts of Kuumba (creativity) are given to loved ones. Kwanzaa’s also celebrated through lighting the Kinara, performing and listening to traditional music, and discussing African principles and history. December 26-January 1
International Winter Solstice For Pagans, December means the holiday of Yule is coming! It falls on December 21, the shortest day and longest night of the year. The winter solstice celebrates the sun’s rebirth because days get longer from then on out. December 21

Hanukkah Traditions

Hanukkah celebrations begin when the sun sets on the 25th of Kislev, which typically occurs from late November through December. Each night as the sun sets, one branch of the Hanukkah menorah is lit by the shamash, making up the ninth and tallest branch on the Menorah. Traditionally, candles are lit from right to left, although there is no one correct order in which to place and light the candles.
Prayers accompany each night’s candle lighting. Once the Menorah is lit, it is often placed in a door or window that faces the street to share the light with neighbors. Traditional songs follow throughout the evening. Food plays an integral part in Hanukkah, which includes those fried in oil to commemorate the miracle, especially ‘latkes’ and ‘sufganiyot.’

Hanukkah Statistics

165 BC – The time of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
Thirty-two feet – The height of the Menorah at the Grand Army Plaza in New York, the largest in the world.
1951 – Harry Truman was the first president to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House, where he accepted a Menorah as a gift from the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.
4 – The four-sided spinning top was invented as a distraction when the Greek-Syrians had outlawed Jewish studies, so the Jews spun dreidels to pretend they were merely playing games while they engaged with their scripture.
175 million – The number of jelly donuts consumed in Israel throughout Hanukkah
5 – The number of ingredients used to make potato ‘latkes,’ or potato pancakes — a delicious Hanukkah specialty.
9 – The Menorah holds nine candles, eight representing each night of Hanukkah.
40,000 – The estimated number of soldiers the Maccabees, led by Judah the Strong, defended themselves against.
164 BC – The time when Yehudit (Judith) served salty cheese to a Greek general, who quenched his thirst with wine so much he passed out and got his head chopped off!
323 bc: After Alexander the Great died, the Seleucid Empire arose out of his fractured empire, the land where Israel is now.

Hanukkah Activities

Light the Menorah
Each night of Hanukkah, use the “shamash” or head candle to light one of the eight candles in the Menorah, so by the last night of Hanukkah, all eight candles are burning!
Give some gelt
Gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins known as gelt are traditional Hanukkah treats. The tradition harkens back to the Maccabees producing their own money after defeating the Greeks!
Play dreidel
A dreidel is a traditional four-sided spinning toy. Each side has a Hebrew letter on it: “nun” means do nothing; “shin” means you put one in; “he” means you get half of what’s in the middle, and “gimel” means you get the whole pot. Play with gelt or with real money for a great time!

Why We Love Hanukkah

It’s a beautiful story.
Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and a rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews fought for freedom and reclaimed their holy Temple; to rededicate it, they needed to light the Menorah, but they only had enough oil for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration to commemorate the eight-day miracle.
There are eight nights of celebration.
Hanukkah isn’t just one fun night; it’s eight fun nights! That means eight nights to come together with your loved ones to light the Menorah, eat a warming meal, and exchange gifts!
We love delicious foods.
It’s traditional on Hanukkah to pay homage to the miraculous oil by eating foods fried in oil! That means delicious latkes, fried potato pancakes, and sweet jelly doughnuts.

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