photo of sisters staring at a lit hanukkah menorah
(Getty)

How Long Does Hanukkah Last?

The Festival of Lights is celebrated as an eight-day festival.

The holiday of Hanukkah last for eight days, though technically it stretches over nine calendar days since Jewish days are counted from sundown to sundown, not midnight to midnight.

There are two main traditions concerning the length of the holiday. The better-known version comes from the Talmud in Shabbat 21b, where the rabbis are discussing the laws of the Hanukkah menorah when the question is raised: What is Hanukkah anyway?

Here the Talmud relates the famous story of the holiday, in which the Hasmoneans, having retaken the temple from the Greeks, find only enough pure oil to burn the temple candelabra for one day. But a miracle occurred and the oil burned for eight days. The following year, the holiday of Hanukkah was instituted to correspond to the eight days that the oil burned.

A lesser-known tradition has it that the first Hanukkah was actually a belated celebration of the eight-day holiday of Sukkot, which falls roughly two months earlier on the Hebrew calendar. Because the Maccabees were then engaged in a bloody rebellion against the forces of King Antiochus, Sukkot could not be celebrated at its proper time that year. Instead, it was celebrated later, on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, when the Maccabees had finally retaken the temple.

Unlike Judaism’s other eight day holidays, Passover and Sukkot, which both begin and end with days that are more sacred than the intermediary days (called hol hamo’ed), Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday and no one of the eight days is more significant than any other. On all days it is permissible to do regular work (except for the Shabbat that falls during Hanukkah), and each day is an equally wonderful opportunity to light Hanukkah candles, sing Hanukkah songs, spin the dreidel, or throw a fabulous Hanukkah party.

Some people think that because Hanukkah is eight days long, Jews must give and receive presents on each and every night. Hanukkah is not traditionally a gift-giving holiday, though in recent times, partly due to its proximity to Christmas in the calendar year, many families have adopted the tradition of giving gifts. Some people do exchange a small gift each night, and some give only one Hanukkah gift on any of the nights during the festival.

Learn more about Hanukkah from our partner sites:
5 Surprising Hanukkah Facts You Might Not Know
‘Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins’ Is the Best Hanukkah Book
Elmo Wears a Kippah To Learn About Hanukkah
Why Do We Eat Latkes on Hanukkah?

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.

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