Candles being lit during Hanukkah 2008 in Brooklyn, New York.

Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights. It is the celebration of the miracle of a small band of Jews led by Judas Maccabee taking back their temple after it had been conquered. The story goes that there was only enough sacred oil for the Eternal Light for one day, but it miraculously lasted the eight days necessary to get more.

In Hebrew Hanukkah is written as חנכה or חנוכה. In English it is transliterated into many different spellings, including Channukah, Hanuka, Chanukkah, Hannukah, etc. Some people claim that any of the spellings that have 8 letters are correct.

"Happy Hanukkah!" is the common holiday greeting among English-speaking Jews.

A feature of the celebration is lighting eight candles in a menorah. Three blessings are said before lighting the candles the first night -- the shammus and one other candle. Two blessings are said on the following nights.

Hanukkah is described as a "minor" holiday, in part because it is not mentioned in the Torah.


Hanukkah 18th century

Anonymous 18th century oil painting which depicts a father and his children celebrating Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is usually a home-based holiday. The person or people who light the menorah vary in different families:

  • sometimes the father or mother always lights the candles
  • in some families everyone over a certain age (for instance eight years old or all b'nei mitzvah) has their own hanukiah or even more than one, and all are lit
  • some families take turns

Because Hanukkah occurs near Christmas, many families in locales with a majority of Christians exchange gifts. This has evolved into a tradition in some families of at least one gift to each child per night.

In the northern hemisphere, Hanukkah occurs near the new moon nearest the shortest daylight days of the year. So, the "Festival of Lights" occurs when nature is the darkest. Some other religions also have holidays celebrating light or the darkest day when the daylight begins to get longer too.

In some places part of the tradition of lighting the candles is that they are displayed in a window after being lit. Hanukkah candles are not usually blown out. They are allowed to burn themselves out.

Hanukkah songs

See also

External links

(includes the prayers with midi files to help you pronounce them)

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