Getting ready to celebrate Hanukkah? We will guide you through lighting your menorah: where to place it, how and when to light it, and what to say.
Positioning Your Menorah
The ancient rabbis felt it was important to publicize the miracle of Hanukkah. Therefore, many Jewish organizations erect large outdoor menorahs in their towns. You can also publicize the miracle by placing your menorah in a window facing the street. In most places, passers-by enjoying seeing the candles through the window. In moments when antisemitism has endangered Jewish lives, some Jews have chosen to light the menorah in a window as an act of defiance and bravery.
Placing and Lighting Your Candles
Your menorah should have eight spots for candles — one for each night — and an extra ninth spot that is at a different elevation. This ninth spot is for the shamash, or helper candle, that is used to light the others.
On the first of Hanukkah’s eight nights, only two candles are placed in the Hanukkah menorah: the shamash, or “helper” candle, which has its own designated spot (usually in the center), and another candle that designates it is the first night. The first night’s candle is placed in the right-most spot. Each night, another candle is added so that on the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, all nine candles (the shamash plus eight others) are lit. To complete the ritual on all eight nights with one menorah, you will need a total of 44 candles per menorah. Most boxes of Hanukkah candles contain 45.
The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left (just as Hebrew is written from right to left), but are lit from left to right. The blessings are said before the candles are lit. In Ashkenazi communities, the shamash candle is the first one lit, and it is used to light the others, starting with the left-most one. (Think of it as lighting the candle representing the current night first.) In Sephardi communities, an extra candle — not part of the menorah — is used to light the candles that represent the nights, and then the shamash is lit last and the extra candle used for lighting is blown out.
When to Light
Hanukkah candles are lit after sundown, when it is dark. But there is one exception. Since Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, the holiday will inevitably overlap with Shabbat at least once. Lighting a fire during Shabbat is forbidden according to Jewish law, so there are slight adjustments to Hanukkah candle lighting on both Friday and Saturday nights. According to Jewish law, the menorah should be lit before the Shabbat candles on Friday evening while it is still light out. As for Saturday night, the candles are lit after the sun goes down and Shabbat has ended, but there are differing opinions regarding whether the menorah should be lit before or after the havdalah rituals are completed. There is no consensus among Ashkenazi rabbis, and the most widespread Sephardic custom is to recite havdalah first.
Before lighting the candles (but after placing them in the menorah), it is traditional to recite three blessings on the first night and then two on every night thereafter. Click here to download a printable PDF of the Hanukkah candle blessings.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִידְשָׁנו בְּמִצוֹתָיו וְצִיוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חַנֻכָה
Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tsivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Praised are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who made us holy through your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, she-asah nisim la’avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.
Praised are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who performed wondrous deeds for our ancestors in those ancient days at this season.
Blessing #3: Shehechiyanu (First Night Only)
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יי אֱלוֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁהֶחֱיָּנוּ, וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיָּענוּ לַזְּמַן הַזֶּה
Baruch atah Adonai, elohenu melech ha’olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiyimanu, v’higiyanu lazman hazeh
Praised are you, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life and sustained us and enabled us to reach this season.
Other Candle-Lighting Rituals
Many families follow candle lighting with traditional Hanukkah songs, playing dreidel, eating gelt or sufganiyot or latkes, or opening gifts. Happy Hanukkah!
Find tips for removing wax from your menorah from Kveller.
Explore Hanukkah’s history, global traditions, food and more with My Jewish Learning’s “All About Hanukkah” email series. Sign up to take a journey through Hanukkah and go deeper into the Festival of Lights.
Pronounced: KHAH-nuh-kah, also ha-new-KAH, an eight-day festival commemorating the Maccabees’ victory over the Greeks and subsequent rededication of the temple. Falls in the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually corresponds with December.
Pronounced: muh-NOHR-uh, Origin: Hebrew, a lamp or candelabra, often used to refer to the Hanukkah menorah, or Hanukkiah.