Chanukah: The Festival of Lights and Rededication

A Bissel of This and That

Chanukah (also spelled Hanukkah) is an eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which begins this year on Thursday evening, December 10th and ends Friday evening, December 18, 2020. It celebrates the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greek regime of Antiochus, who attempted to Hellenize the Jews and abolish many Jewish practices, such as observing Shabbat and studying the Torah. Jews were severely oppressed and even massacred, and the Temple was desecrated by requiring the sacrifice of pigs on the altar. A small band of the devout, led by Matitiyahu the Priest and his son Judah Maccabee, led a  successful rebellion against the much larger and powerful Syrian army. Afterwards, the Maccabees returned to the Temple, cleared it of idols, built a new altar and rededicated it. When they went to relight the Menorah, they found only a vial of pure oil sufficient to burn one day, but miraculously, it burned for eight days, giving them time to produce additional pure oil.

In order to commemorate the miracle of Chanukah, we light the menorah, also known as a Hanukkiah, for eight days. The Hanukkiah holds nine candles: one for each night, plus a shamash (servant or attendant) at a different height. On the first night, one candle is placed at the far right. The shamash candle is lit and three brakot (blessings) are recited: l’hadlik neir (a general prayer over candles), she-asah nisim (a prayer thanking G-d for performing miracles for our ancestors at this time), and shehekhianu (a general prayer thanking G-d for allowing us to reach this time of year). The first candle is then lit using the shamash candle, and the shamash candle is placed in its holder. Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language). Candles are lit from left to right because we pay honor to the newer thing first.

A fun tradition on Chanukah is to play the Dreidel Game for pennies, nuts, or candies, such as M&M’s or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. A dreidel (Sevivon in Hebrew) is marked with four Hebrew letters:  Nun, Gimmel, Heh and Shin. This stands for the Hebrew phrase “nes gadol hayah sham,” a great miracle happened there. (In Israel, the Shin is replaced by a Peh, which stands for the word Po, meaning “here”.) The four letters, Nun, Gimmel, Heh, and Shin also stand for the Yiddish words nit (nothing), gantz (all), halb (half) and shtell (put), which are the rules of the game.

It is traditional to eat fried foods on Chanukah, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) because of the significance of oil to the holiday.

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, brings light, joy, and warmth to our homes and communities as we celebrate with candles, food, family, and friends. Light comes literally, with the lighting of an additional candle each day, and metaphorically, through a newer emphasis on charitable donations and a commitment to tikkun olam (repair of the world) during the holiday.

Further Information on the history of Chanukah, lighting the Hanuukkiah, playing the Dreidel Game, as well as recipes and interesting facts can be found at: