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How is Hanukkah celebrated?

Hanukkah is a special time of year where family and friends gather together to celebrate. This Jewish festival of lights is celebrated by lighting candles, eating oily food and exchanging gifts. Hanukkah is a time to remember the past and to enjoy the present.

Who Invented Hanukkah?

Hanukkah has a long and rich history and came about thousands of years ago by a successful battle between the Jews and the Syrian Greeks.

It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.

The story of Hanukkah began two hundred years earlier when Alexander the Great had conquered Judea and become part of the Macedonian empire. When Alexander died in 323 BCE his kingom was divided into three parts with the Judean part falling to the Syrian Greeks.

Under Syrian Greek rule the Jews were forced to assimilate to Greek culture. In 168 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ruler of Syria, banned all Jewish religious practices and it became no longer safe to be Jewish.

Soon a sect of Jewish “guerrillas” formed lead by Mattiathias first then his son Judah Maccabee started to rebel against the Syrian- Greeks for religious freedom

The Jews rose up in revolt under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus. After three years of fighting, they were victorious and regained control of Jerusalem by recapturing the Temple Mount, which had been deliberately desecrated by the Greeks.

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The Maccabees also rekindled the Great Menorah, the six foot high golden seven branch candelabrum that stood in the inner santury. On the 25 day of Kislev in the year 165 BCE Judah offered Korban Tamid, the daily sacrifice, the first in many years. This dedication ceremony lasted eight days. 

Or as the Rabbi’s asked themselves

What is Hanukkah?

On the 25 day of Kislev, the days of the Hanukkah festival began. There are eight days during which eulogies for the dead and fasting are prohibited. When the Greeks entered the Temple they defiled all the oil stored in it. After the Hasmoneans had established their rule and prevailed they searched and found one single cruse of oil, still sealed with the seal of the High Priest. But there was only enough oil to last for one day. A miracle occurred, and the supply lasted for eight days. In the following year they appointed these days as festival days, with he recitation of Hallel and with thanksgiving.” SHABBAT 21B

How is the Hanukkah Date Determined?

As we know from history it was on the 25th of Kislev which is the 9th month in the Jewish calendar. It usually falls in November and December each year. 

This is the date the Rabbis of the Talmudic time decided the days of Hanukkah festival should begin and every year on the 25th Kislev is the first night of Hanukkah. 


How is Hanukkah Celebrated?

The basic preparation in advance of Hanukkah is to set up the menorah which is an eight branch candelabrum plus one called the Shamash.

To publicize the miracle the menorah is often set up in front of a window so that passersby can see and reflect on it.

The menorah can be made from any material. They have become a feature of Jewish memorabilia and in every country Jews stylize the Hanukkiah to reflect the unique approach to design of their locale.

After the candles are lit gifts and gelt are given around.

Make sure you know your Jewish Holiday dates for the next 12 months

How to light the Hanukkah Candles

Order of candles for Hanukkah lighting

On the first night, only one light is lit, the one at the far right as you face the menorah. on the second night, when two lights are lit the second one, the newest one is lit first. However inserting the candles or pouring in the oil should be done in reverse direction, from right to left. Thus on the eighth night, lights are prepared as you can see in this illustration. 

First light the shamash and without lighting the other wicks yet recite the blessing which can be found HERE

On the first night the Shehecheyanu is added which can be found HERE

It is traditional to sing Hanukkah songs such as Maoz Tzur and Hanero Halalu

On one of the nights which falls on Shabbat you need to light the Hanukkah candles before the Shabbat candles

What are Hanukkah Traditions?

Oily food is one of the main traditions to symbolize the miracle of the oil that continued burning for eight nights instead of one. Latkes which is a grated potato fried in oil is well known. Also fried donuts called Suvganiot with jam in the middle. This has become such a popular food that in Israel the Suvganiot has become quite impressive.


Dreidel is the spinning top game played at Hanukkah. A four sided spinner is spun which contain the Hebrew letters on each sse -N/G/H and SH which are the initials of the phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham” a Great Miracle Happened Here.

There is also the special prayer of praise of God called Hallel that is recited during all festivals and and a prayer inserted into the grace after meals called Al Hanissim which is a short passage about miracles.