Chanukah/Hanukkah

Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication,” or traditionally known as Chanukah. Is referenced as the Festival of Lights. It is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the miracle that only one vial of oil was found with just enough oil to illuminate the Temple lamp for one day, and yet it lasted for eight full days leading to the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian Greek army and rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.


The Facts

Chanukah or Hanukkah is celebrated at home for eight days by lighting the menorah (each night one additional candle is lit and added to the number from the previous night). Some people also sing Hanukkah songs or exchange gifts after lighting the menorah, which is also called a hanukkiah. 

Many Hanukkah foods are deep-fried in oil, symbolizing the oil from the menorah used in the Temple. These include latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts. Chocolate gelt, a candy that gets its name from the Yiddish word for money, is another popular Hanukkah treat.

This year the dates of Hanukkah are November 28th to December 6th. The exact dates of Hanukkah always fluctuate from year to year due to differences in the Hebrew and the Gregorian calendars. The Gregorian calendar year is based on the 365 days it takes the earth to orbit the sun, while the Hebrew calendar year is based on the 354 days it takes for the moon to go through 12 complete cycles of roughly 29.5 days each. Over time, the Jewish calendar falls more and more out of phase with the solar one, and if left that way the holidays would migrate across the entirety of the solar year. To ensure this doesn’t happen, the two calendars are brought back into sync every so often by the addition of a month to the Jewish year. Not surprisingly, the calendars are most out of sync just prior to a Jewish leap year. In the early spring, the Jewish calendar will add an additional month, Adar II, to bring the calendars back into alignment. That will ensure that Passover 2022 falls out at a more typical date: April 15. 

The Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah, is designed to evoke the menorah that stood in the Temple 2,000 years ago. The Temple menorah had seven branches, a central branch flanked by three on each side. Most hanukkiahs mimic this design with a central branch flanked by four branches on each side, the eight side branches symbolizing the eight days that the oil miraculously burned as well as the eight days of celebration. The central flame is called the shamash candle.

The dreidel is a four-sided top with a different Hebrew letter on each side. The usual story told about the dreidel is that when Jewish learning was forbidden, the Jews would study Torah in secret. When soldiers were approaching, they would quickly hide their books (or, back then, scrolls) and take out the tops and pretend to be involved in a game. The letters on the dreidel are also symbolic. Around the world, most dreidels have the following four letters: nun, gimmel, hey, shin. This stands for the Hebrew phrase nes gadol haya sham, which means “a great miracle happened there” — alluding, of course, to the miracle of Hanukkah. 

The Star of David, Hebrew Magen David (“Shield of David”), Magen also spelled Mogen, a Jewish symbol composed of two overlaid equilateral triangles that form a six-pointed star. This is not really a Hanukkah symbol but a Jewish symbol that gets a lot of play during the Hanukkah season, perhaps to differentiate Hanukkah from Christmas in countries where that holiday is widely celebrated. It turns out, the Jewish star is actually a newer Jewish symbol than you might think. A more ancient Jewish symbol? The menorah.

Due to its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah has become one of the most well-known Jewish holidays, despite being a minor holiday that isn’t even mentioned in the Torah. While “Happy Holidays” isn’t inappropriate to say during the Festival of Lights, there are several Hanukkah-specific phrases you can use to greet someone on Hanukkah. The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. 

In English, it’s perfectly normal to say “Happy Hanukkah.” To say Happy Hanukkah in Hebrew, you can say chag chanuka sameach, (pronounced chahg cha-nu-KAH sah-MAY-ach.)

In Israel, it is common to just say chanuka sameach. Some Israelis prefer chag urim sameach (pronounced chahg oo-REEM sah-MAY-ach), which literally translates to “Happy Festival of Lights.” 

Hanukkah is showtime in Israel. Across the country, elaborate plays and musicals are staged, perhaps to help keep kids entertained while they’re off from school (yes, Hanukkah is vacation time in Israel). Among the best-known of these is the annual Festigal show, a musical production that pits major Israeli stars against one another in musical numbers.



Additional Resources


Activities

Zoom Backgrounds
Virtual backgrounds are one of the easiest ways to celebrate Chanukah today! Just replace your normal backdrop with one that celebrates Hanukkah! Get your friends and co-workers to share and join in on the celebration too!

Right-click the image then save as to your computer. Open your Zoom application and update your background to the file you saved from this page.

Social Media Activity

  • Directions
    • Click and save the images below to your device.
    • Then post it on social media and tag us using the social handles below!
      • EXAMPLE WORDS: Happy Hanukkah! Today is the start of the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah or Chanukah, and I’m so excited to learn all about this holiday! Some of my friends (tag friends, if you would like) celebrate Hanukkah, and I wanted to learn more about how they celebrate and why! Check out all of these great resources and information about Hanukkah if you want to know more too! https://bit.ly/3nP3RCk
      • EXAMPLE WORDS: Happy Hanukkah! Tonight my (family or friends) are lighting the (#) candle of the menorah, this is one of my favorite times of the year! As I’m celebrating, I’m grateful to still learn new things about this celebration, if you’re like me and want to learn more check out all of these awesome resources and information about Hanukkah to get you into the spirit! Comment below if you’re celebrating like me! https://bit.ly/3nP3RCk

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