The Jewish Festival of Rededication, also called the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration that falls each year on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev, which generally falls in December in the Gregorian calendar. (In 2021, Hanukkah is December 10 through December 18.) Hanukkah, also referred to as Chanukah, celebrates the rededication of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
When is Hanukkah 2021?
Hanukkah, which means ‘dedication’ in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts.
History of Hanukkah
The eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. This group of Jews are known as the Maccabees. The name was formed from the first letters of a Hebrew phrase, “Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem,” which translates to “Who is like You, God.”
The history of Hanukkah – much like the histories of many religious or ancient holidays – has various starting and ending points. The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C., Judea — which is modern-day Israel/Palestine — came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion. His son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent. Ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.
In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV Epiphanes soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee — ‘the Hammer — took the helm. Within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. The revolts turned out to be a success, and the Jews regained the rights to practice their religion in their temples. In order to do so, Judah called on his followers to cleanse the temple and light a menorah with oil that had been blessed by the high priest all night every night until the new altar could be built over the old one.
This is the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and was meant to be kept burning every night. But, there was only one flask of oil left that would only last for one night. They lit it anyway and it stayed lit for eight days, the amount of time needed to press new oil.
According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This wondrous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.
The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament, in which Jesus attends a ‘Feast of Dedication.’
The revolt by the Maccabees in Jerusalem was ultimately successful, as they regained control of the Temple, creating the holiday.
President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving to be the last Thursday in November , only to find that it overlapped that year with one of Hanukkah's eight days.
Hanukkah finally hits the White House as the then Prime Minister of Israel presented a menorah to President Truman.
The popular kid's show Rugrats, featured a Hanukkah episode that was both parts entertaining and wildly informative of how and why the holiday came to be.
Hanukkah celebrations begin when the sun sets on the 25th of Kislev, which typically occurs from late November through December. Each night as the sun sets, one branch of the Hanukkah menorah is lit by the shamash, making up the ninth and tallest branch on the menorah. Traditionally, candles are lit from right to left, although there is no one correct order in which to place and light the candles.
Prayers accompany each night’s candle lighting. Once the menorah is lit, it is often placed in a door or window that faces the street to share the light with neighbors. Traditional songs follow throughout the evening. Food plays an important part in Hanukkah, which includes those fried in oil to commemorate the miracle, especially ‘latkes’ and ‘sufganiyot.’
165 BC – The time of the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the re-dedication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem.
32 feet – The height of the Menorah at the Grand Army Plaza in New York, the largest in the world.
1951 – Harry Truman was the first president to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House, where he accepted a Menorah as a gift from the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.
4 – The four-sided spinning top was invented as a distraction when the Greek-Syrians had outlawed Jewish studies, so the Jews spun dreidels to pretend they were merely playing games while they engaged with their scripture.
175 million – The number of jelly donuts consumed in Israel throughout Hanukkah
5 – The number of ingredients used to make potato ‘latkes’, or potato pancakes — a delicious Hanukkah speciality.
9 – The menorah holds nine candles, eight of which represent each night of Hanukkah.
40,000 – The estimated number of soldiers the Maccabees, led by Judah the Strong, defended themselves against.
164 BC – The time when Yehudit (Judith) served salty cheese to a Greek general, who quenched his thirst with wine so much he passed out and got his head chopped off!
323 BC – After Alexander the Great died, the Seleucid Empire arose out of his fractured empire, the land where Israel is now.
Is Chanukah and Hanukkah the same thing?
What is the story of Hanukkah?
Why do we celebrate Hanukkah?
What is the miracle of Chanukah?
Light the menorah
Each night of Hanukkah, use the “shamash” or head candle to light one of the eight candles in the menorah, so by the last night of Hanukkah, all eight candles are burning!
Give some gelt
Gold-foil-wrapped chocolate coins known gelt are traditional Hanukkah treats. The tradition harkens back to the Maccabees producing their own money after defeating the Greeks!
A dreidel is a traditional four-sided spinning toy. Each side has a Hebrew letter on it: “nun" means do nothing; "shin" means you put one in; "he" means you get half of what's in the middle; and "gimel” means you get the whole pot. Play with gelt or with real money for a great time!
Why We Love Hanukkah
It’s a beautiful story
Hanukkah is a celebration of the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and a rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews fought for freedom and reclaimed their holy temple; in order to rededicate it, they needed to light the menorah, but only had enough oil for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration to commemorate the eight-day miracle.
There are eight nights of celebration
Hanukkah isn’t just one night of fun, it’s eight nights of fun! That means eight nights to come together with your loved ones to light the menorah, eat a warming meal, and yes, exchange gifts!
We love delicious foods
It’s traditional on Hanukkah to pay homage to the miraculous oil by eating foods fried in oil! That means delicious latkes, which are fried potato pancakes, and sweet jelly doughnuts.