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Hanukkah (Dec 7th to Dec 15th)

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Enjoy eight full days of celebration toward the end of the calendar year by getting involved with Hanukkah! Also sometimes called the Festival of Lights, people of the Jewish tradition or faith often choose to participate in this eight-day event as a nod to a historical experience that happened more than two thousand years ago.

Learn more about this special event and perhaps even look for some opportunities to celebrate Hanukkah this year!

History of Hanukkah

While a great deal of Jewish History can actually be found in the Bible, Hanukkah is one of those festivals that has not been mentioned in the canonized text. The most thorough documentation that recounts the events of the holiday can be found in books called 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees. For some complicated reasons, these portions of text have been accepted by the Jews of Alexandria but not by those in Ancient Israel, so they have not been passed down through the generations in the same way.

Even so, the celebration of this event still stands and has grown worldwide. The History of Hanukkah is included as part of the Apocrypha and, in addition, is recorded in the Talmud, which was written a little later – around 500 AD.

The History of Hanukkah revolves around a tyrant king who was abusive to the Jewish people and destroyed their sacred Temple in 167 BC. With the aim of getting the temple back, some rebels called the “Maccabees” revolted against the king, taking the city back and rebuilding their temple.

While the temple oil used to light the menorah should only have been enough for one day, it lasted for eight days and this was celebrated as a miracle. This thread continues in today’s observance of Hanukkah, in the eight-day celebration and the lighting of the candles.

Deeply symbolic, the name Hanukkah can be traced back to the root words for “dedication” or “consecration”. In addition, the last two letters of the word correspond with the number 25, acting as a mnemonic device which is important because Hanukkah is always celebrated beginning on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar.

Hanukkah begins at sundown on the first night and lasts for eight nights and days. Some traditions for families who celebrate might include lighting each day’s candle on the menorah, having a delicious meal together, reading blessings, exchanging gifts, playing with dreidel toys, and enjoying time with family.

Hanukkah Timeline

167 BC

Jewish religion is outlawed 

King Antiochus IV becomes king, persecuting the Jewish people and desecrating their sacred temple.[1]

164 BC

Jewish uprising takes the Temple back 

A Jewish group known as the Maccabees wins a series of battles and, when the temple was rededicated, the tiniest bit of oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

1st Century AD 

Josephus writes about the Festival of Lights 

Before it gains the name “Hanukkah”, the story of this celebration is told by Jewish historian Josephus Flavius.[2]

1979 US

President Jimmy Carter acknowledges Hanukkah 

The first president to mark the occasion, Carter lights the National Menorah in Washington DC.[3]

1994 

Adam Sandler makes Hanukkah more popular with SNL 

The Saturday Night Live stars gives a nod to his Jewish roots by singing a comedic ode to Hanukkah.[4]

How to Celebrate Hanukkah

Looking for ideas and input on how to celebrate Hanukkah with some traditions and rituals? Check out some of these, whether modern or dating back hundreds of years, and make plans for enjoying this series of eight special days:

Light Menorah Candles

An important aspect of Hanukkah is related to the oil that kept the lamps burning for an extra number of days. As a way to honor the miracle that took place more than two thousand years ago, Jewish people have the tradition of lighting candles on a menorah. The menorah actually holds nine candles, one of which is considered to be the “helper” candle and is used to light the others. The other eight candles are lit one at a time, adding a new one every day for the duration of the Hanukkah celebration.

Different families will have unique traditions and rituals surrounding the light of the menorah. Typically, a special blessing is read during the lighting of the candles and a song may be sung as well. Each candle should be lit at nightfall and stay lit for at least half an hour or more, with the exception of shabbat. In this case, the candle is lit just before nightfall and should stay lit for at least 1½ hours. Many families like to place their menorahs in a front window where those outside can see them.

Enjoy Some Special Hanukkah Foods

Again, some families will have different traditions surrounding the food they like to eat for their Hanukkah celebrations. However, some of the more common ones include latkes (potato pancakes), applesauce and sour cream, jelly doughnuts, or kugel (an egg noodle pudding). Some other items families might enjoy for this event may include matzo ball soup, rugelach pastries, or challah bread made at home or sourced from a bakery.

Watch Some Hollywood Hannukahs

Sure, Hollywood doesn’t always do the best job representing actual people in their normal lives. But, even so, catching a film can be a fun way to have a laugh or enjoy some downtime in celebration of a holiday. Consider watching one or more of these films that have a scene or two – or even the whole film – that depicts Hanukkah:

  • Menorah in the Middle (2022). A woman brings her fiance home to meet the parents for Hanukkah, but their plans go awry when the family bakery needs to be saved.
  • Little Fockers (2010). With an all star cast of Ben Stiller, Barbara Streisand, Robert DeNiro, Dustin Hoffman and so many others, this movie reveals what it might be like to try a combined Christmas and Hanukkah celebration with family.
  • Hanukkah on Rye (2022). This Hallmark Channel movie is a delightful rom-com with a story that pits two Jewish deli owners against each other.
  • Eight Gifts of Hanukkah (2021). Hallmark’s first fully Hanukkah film is (obviously) also a romantic comedy, where Inbar Lavi and Jake Epstein portray two friends that may turn into something more.

Play or Sing Some Fun Hanukkah Songs

When most people think of fun songs for Hanukkah, they flash back to Adam Sandler’s tribute Chanukah Song made on Saturday Night Live in the mid-90s. And, while that one is certainly a classic, there are a number of other songs that can be listened to or sung, maybe even with children, to celebrate this event.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings sang the 8 Days of Hanukkah song that might be fun to sing. Or, a bit more tongue-in-cheek is I’m Spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica by Tom Lehrer, who needed to get away from the cold weather for the season. Put these and other songs on a playlist to get in the mood for Hanukkah!

Hanukkah FAQs

When does Hanukkah start?

The dates for Hanukkah change every year because they are based on the Hebrew calendar, but it always begins at sundown on the evening of the first day.[1]

How many days is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days.[2]

Can Hanukkah be in November?

Yes, Hanukkah typically takes place in December but may also occur in late November.

What are Hanukkah candles?

Hanukkah candles are nine candles that sit in the menorah.[3]

Did Hanukkah start in Israel?

Yes, this festival began in Jerusalem over 2000 years ago.[4]

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