English speakers generally pronounce it HAH-nuh-kuh. However, some people prefer the Israeli pronunciation, which is khah-new-KAH.
Hanukkah is a Hebrew word (spelled חנוכה in Hebrew), not an English one, and there is no standard transliteration. My Jewish Learning uses “Hanukkah,” but “Chanukah,” “Chanukka” and “Hanukka” are also common spellings.
There are two explanations for the eight-day length. One is that Hanukkah commemorates not just the Maccabees’ victory and rededication of the Temple, but the miracle of the oil: one day’s supply of oil for the Temple lamp lasted eight days. Another explanation is that the first Hanukkah celebration was actually a delayed Sukkot celebration, and Sukkot — which, like Passover, is a pilgrimage festival — traditionally lasts eight days.
Hanukkah celebrates the Maccabees’ rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. According to rabbinic tradition, the holiday also commemorates the miracle of the oil: one day’s supply of oil for the Temple’s lamp lasted eight days. Some people see Hanukkah as a celebration of religious freedom, whereas others see it as a triumph of tradition over assimilation. For many people, it is simply an opportunity for festivity during the darkest time of the year, the winter solstice.
- Learn more about the Maccabees.
- Learn more about the rabbinic development of Hanukkah.
- See a map showing where the Hanukkah story happened.
- Learn more about Hanukkah’s connection to the winter solstice.
Depends on who you ask. Many Jews strongly disapprove of Jews celebrating Christmas, which is a Christian holiday, and some feel alienated by the ubiquity of Christmas in American culture. However, others see Christmas as more a cultural celebration than religious holiday, and enjoy participating in Christmas celebrations with non-Jewish friends or non-Jewish family members.
Hanukkah always falls on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually is sometime in December. Because the Jewish calendar is a combination of solar and lunar, the date on the Gregorian calendar fluctuates each year.
Menorah simply means lamp and can refer to other candelabras. A hanukkiah is a candelabra specifically for use on Hanukkah. However, many people call it a menorah or Hanukkah menorah — you usually can tell from context when a person is referring to a Hanukkah candelabra and not a general lamp.
- Learn more about the Hanukkah menorah (or hanukkiah, if you prefer).
- Learn how to light the Hanukkah menorah.
There are different explanations for this tradition, but historians believe the dreidel is an adaptation of another top-spinning game that Europeans played at Christmas time.
Actually, exchanging gifts on Hanukkah is a relatively new tradition. American Jews used to exchange gifts on Purim, but in the late 19th century there was a shift from Purim to Hanukkah. Christmas, which falls at the same time of year, became a national holiday in America at this time, and the Jewish custom of gifts on Hanukkah shifted as the Christian holiday’s consumerism grew. When it comes to how many gifts to exchange and when, families have different traditions. Many people prefer to limit the gift exchange to just a few nights, in order to de-emphasize the materialistic aspects of the holiday.
- Learn more about the history of exchanging gifts on Hanukkah.
- Get Hanukkah gift ideas.
- Learn how to make your holiday more meaningful and less materialistic.
While dates on the Gregorian calendar begin at midnight, dates on the Hebrew calendar begin at sundown — which means a holiday starts hours before the corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar. This difference is particularly noticeable on Hanukkah, since celebrations tend to take place at night, rather than during the day. So, while your calendar may say Hanukkah starts on December 13, it actually begins the preceding evening.
Happy Hanukkah, chag sameach (Hebrew for happy holiday) or Hanukkah sameach (Hebrew for Happy Hanukkah). If you are not sure whether the person you are greeting celebrates Hanukkah or not, you can always say “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings.”
Jewish law does not require Jews to observe Hanukkah anywhere outside the home. However, some special liturgy and readings are added to the daily and Shabbat prayer services that take place during Hanukkah.
The Book of Maccabees, in which the Hanukkah story is detailed, was not included in the Hebrew Bible and is instead in a category of texts called Apocrypha. For centuries, some Jews used to read the story from an Aramaic-language scroll called The Scroll of Antiochus, which detailed the Maccabees’ victories and added numerous legends.
- Learn why the Maccabees didn’t make it into the biblical canon.
- Read a summary of the Book of First Maccabees.
- Read a summary of the Book of Second Maccabees.
It is traditional to eat fried foods, such as latkes and jelly donuts (called sufganiyot in Hebrew) as a way of commemorating the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. If you’re worried about the health (or waistline) implications, try baking your latkes — or consider celebrating the oil by dipping bread into a variety of gourmet olive oils. Another traditional Hanukkah food — cheese — unfortunately isn’t much better for those concerned about fat. The cheese tradition is in honor of Judith, a woman who helped the Maccabee effort by feeding salty cheese and wine to one of Antiochus’ generals — and then beheading him.
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.