The Celebration of Hanukkah: All You Need to Know

Hanukkah is a traditional Jewish holiday that begins on December 24th and ends on January 1st. Hanukkah, also spelled “Chanukah”, is known as the Festival of Lights and the Festival of Dedication, as it originated when the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire, dating back to 160 B.C., approximately. When they won back the temple over the Seleucides, they sought to light the menorah (a 9-pronged candelabra), but they only found enough oil to light the menorah for one night. Amazingly, the oil kept the candles burning for 8 nights. The miracle of this week has been celebrated for centuries amongst the Jewish communities throughout the world.

Celebrating Hanukkah is much different than celebrating Christmas, though they fall around the same time every year. Jewish do not celebrate Christmas like Christians, and Christians do not typically celebrate Hanukkah.

The fundamental part of celebrating Hanukkah is lighting the menorah after sundown each night of the celebration. Typically, Jewish families light one candle of the menorah every night, reciting a prayer or hymn after lighting the candle each night. The candles typically should burn for 30 minutes after being lit, and at least an hour and a half on the Friday night of that week. The source can also be oil lit with cotton wicks. The flames should be in a straight line with even flames, as in, one should not be higher than the rest. You should not use an electronic or battery powered menorah for the ceremony, but they are great for decorative purposes. menorah-9127036

Traditionally, the hymns that accompany the candle-lighting are said in Hebrew (the original language of the Jewish people), but there are translated versions in English and other languages as well. Two blessings are recited as the Hanukkah candles are lit. On the first night, the shehecheyanu blessing is said as well (see below).

  1. shehecheyanu/Blessing of Praise
    Transliteration: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehechehyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higianu laz’man hazeh.
    Translation: Our praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of all: for giving us life, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this season.
  2. Hanerot Halalu (chart courtesy of Wikipedia)
Hebrew Transliteration English
הנרות הללו אנו מדליקין על הנסים ועל הנפלאות ועל התשועות ועל המלחמות שעשית לאבותינו בימים ההם, בזמן הזה על ידי כהניך הקדושים. וכל שמונת ימי חנוכה הנרות הללו קודש הם, ואין לנו רשות להשתמש בהם אלא להאיר אותם בלבד כדי להודות ולהלל לשמך הגדול על נסיך ועל נפלאותיך ועל ישועותיך. Hanneirot hallalu anu madlikin ‘al hannissim ve’al hanniflaot ‘al hatteshu’ot ve’al hammilchamot she’asita laavoteinu bayyamim haheim, (u)bazzeman hazeh ‘al yedei kohanekha hakkedoshim. Vekhol-shemonat yemei Hanukkah hanneirot hallalu kodesh heim, ve-ein lanu reshut lehishtammesh baheim ella lir’otam bilvad kedei lehodot ul’halleil leshimcha haggadol ‘al nissekha ve’al nifleotekha ve’al yeshu’otekha. We kindle these lights for the miracles and the wonders, for the redemption and the battles that you made for our forefathers, in those days at this season, through your holy priests. During all eight days of Hanukkah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them except for to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו, מלך העולם, אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו להדליק נר של חנוכה.

Transliteration: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Translation: “Blessed are You, LORD our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light[s].”

In modern celebrations, it is common for Jewish parents to give their children small gifts during the week of Hanukkah, as well as give “charity” instead of receiving things for themselves.

The last day of Hanukkah is called “Zot Hanukkah”, and it is celebrated at the synagogue. It is the final day of the Yom Kippur season, and it is meant to be filled with compassion to God and prayer.

The traditional foods during the time of Hanukkah include Latkes (fried potato pancakes), sufganiyot (donut-like pastries stuffed with jelly, jam, cream, etc. Popular in Israel), and a large amount of cheese and other dairy products. Traditional foods like sufganiyots and latkes vary in preparation depending on which country you visit.

Dreidel, as we all know, is a Jewish game played mainly at the time of Hanukkah. Dreidels are easy to find and easy to make also, and the rules are easy too.

Rules of Celebrating Hanukkah

  • No lighting candles on the Shabbat: the Shabbat is the time period from sundown on Friday night to sundown on Saturday evening.
  • The menorah should either be placed in the doorway of your home (off the ground on a small table or chair) or in your windowsill at the front of your home.
  • Only light candles at sunset or slightly thereafter.
  • The light from the menorah is not to be used as an actual light source, but as a celebrative centerpiece. It’s typical for families to sit around the menorah and tell stories of Hanukkah.
  • It is customary to increase donations to charity.
  • Gifts to children (typically money) are given after the menorah is lit.