When is Hanukkah?
Also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, the festival of Hanukkah is a major Jewish festival. It is a holiday period in Israel, with schools closing, though it is not a national holiday.
Beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (in November or December in the Western calendar), this holiday is observed for eight days in honour of the historic victory of the Maccabbees against religious oppression.
History of Hanukkah
In Hebrew, Hanukkah means 'dedication' or 'consecration'. During the 2nd century BCE, the Greek rulers of Antiochus had attempted to dissuade Jews away from Judaism and its traditions. The aim was to better integrate them into Greek culture. As part of these efforts, certain aspects of Jewish observance were outlawed, such as the study of Torah.
While the attempts had proved successful, a band of Jews rebelled and openly revolted against the changes to their way of life. This small band of rebels waged a campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Syrians. Antiochus sent thousands of soldiers to quell the rebellion, but the Maccabees managed to drive the Syrians from the land. In December, 164 BCE Jewish fighters entered Jerusalem. They found the Holy Temple in ruins and had been desecrated by the foreign troops.
Did you know?
Hanukkah is the only Jewish holiday not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. The events occurred after it was written. The holiday is mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian Bible, which sees Jesus attend what is referred to as a "Feast of Dedication."
In addition to commemorating a military victory, Hanukkah remembers the 'miracle of the oil'. After the victory, when the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple, they discovered they only had one flask of oil left to relight the Menorah. Miraculously, this small flask lasted for eight days, until a new supply of oil was obtained.
Nowadays, Hanukkah features the tradition of lighting a special Hanukkah menorah ('Hanukkiah ') with nine branches, lighting a new candle each night of Hanukkah. The menorah has a ninth candle (the 'shamash') which is used to light the other candles.
Commemorating the miracle of the burning lamp, it is traditional to eat foods fried in oil, such as potato latke pancakes or doughnuts.
Did you know?
The University of Chicago hosts an annual debate on the relative merits of latkes and hamantashen (a triangular pastry associated with Purim).
Other customs include spinning a top with Hebrew letters on the sides known as the dreidel (pictured above), and giving money to children. Chocolate coins or gelt (Yiddish for money) wrapped in gold and silver are exchanged at Hanukkah.
Traditionally Jews only exchanged gifts on Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating the time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination by a young woman called Esther. With the growing prominence of Christmas in the late 19th century, the Jewish custom shifted in imitation of Christmas.
Did you know?
There are four letters on the side of a dreidel. They are 'nun, gimel, hei, shin'. Together they form an acronym for the message of Hanukkah: 'A great miracle happened there'.
Like other Jewish holidays, Hanukkah will begin at sundown on the previous day.
Hanukkah Around the World
Algeria: It is a tradition for many Algerian Jews to hang a menorah on their door, as well as a mezuzah, which is a small scroll usually stuck inside the front door, meant to bestow protection and blessings.
Canada: The first Hanukkah celebration in Canada dates back to 1760, which is when Jewish people were first allowed to immigrate to what was then a British colony.
Hungary: Established in 2009, the Quarter6Quarter7 Festival is a large celebration of Hanukkah each year in Budapest’s former Jewish Quarter. The festival routinely features flash mobs, candle lighting, live music, theatre performances, film screenings, culinary events and guided walking tours.
United Kingdom: Home to over 260,000 Jewish residents, the United Kingdom has a unique tradition of lighting a giant menorah in London’s Trafalgar Square for the holiday each year.
United States: The National Menorah in Washington D.C. will be lit by dignitaries.
Which name is correct – Hanukkah or Chanukah?
The simple answer is, both names and spellings are considered correct in Judaism.
However, Hanukkah is the most widely used spelling, while Chanukah is more traditional.
In fact, there are more than 20 different spelling variations of the Festival of Lights exists as Hebrew words are very different from English and so have to be translated, therefore explaining all the different spellings.