Hanukkah Traditions Explained

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Hanukkah is a popular Jewish festival (Credit: USembassy.gov/ Public Domain)

Hanukkah is an eight-day-long Jewish festival. Also called the Festival of Lights, it celebrates the victory of good over evil and is a happy occasion with many fun traditions. The date of the celebrations, determined by the Hebrew calendar, varies annually. This year, Hanukkah will be observed from December 18, 2022, to December 26, 2022.

Lighting the menorah

The most important Hanukkah tradition is lighting a nine-branched candle holder called a menorah. On the first night, two candles are lit. One for the first night of Hanukkah and the shamash (or "helper") candle used to ignite it. Each night after that, an additional candle is added until all nine are lit on the eighth day.

The tradition dates back over 2,000 years to when Greece's Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled the Land of Israel. The king banned Judaism and forced the Jewish people to worship Greek deities. He also installed an altar to Zeus inside Jerusalem's Second Temple.

A successful uprising led by a Jewish priest and his five sons helped reclaim the temple. When worshippers entered, they found a small quantity of sacred oil — just enough to light a candle for a single day. To their surprise, the candle burned for eight consecutive days. This gave the Jewish people enough time to prepare a fresh batch of oil. Soon after, a festival was declared to commemorate the miracle oil, and Hanukkah was born.

Food

Jelly donuts, or sufganiyot, are popular during Hanukkah (Credit: Avitnal Pinnick/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Flickr)

Many traditional Hanukkah foods are deep-fried to honor the miracle oil that led to the start of the holiday. Among the most popular are potato pancakes called latkes and jelly donuts called sufganiyot. Beef brisket, matzo ball soup, and challah — a braided egg bread — are also enjoyed during the festival.

Games

After dinner, it's time for games! The most popular one involves a dreidel. The spinning top has Hebrew lettering engraved on each of its four sides. Together, they form the acronym for "Nes Gadol Haya Sham." This is Hebrew for "a great miracle happened here."

Dreidels are spinning tops with four sides (Credit: Adiel/ CC BY-SA 3.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The game is pretty simple. Players receive an equal number of game pieces, such as dried fruit or chocolate coins. They donate a game piece to a shared pot and then take turns spinning the dreidel. Depending on the side it lands on, the player either gives or receives game pieces from the pot.

The origin of the lively game is unclear. Some believe it dates back to the reign of King Antiochus IV. Prohibited from practicing Judaism in public, Jews would often read the Torah secretly. Upon seeing the Greek troops, they would hide the sacred texts and pretend to play with the dreidel. Others think the game has European origins.

Gifts

Chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil are given out as gifts on Hanukkah (Credit: liz west / CC BY 2.0/ Wikimedia Commons)

Traditionally, children received gelt — a small amount of money or chocolate coins — during Hanukkah. But today, many families hand out more substantial gifts. Unlike Christmas, when the presents are given in a single day, Hanukkah gifting lasts eight days! It is no wonder the holiday is so popular with kids!

Resources: usatoday.com, Wikipedia.org, History.com

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46 Comments
  • rosemary_books
    As someone who celebrates Hanukkah, I'm happy we're getting some recognition!
    • esay1
      esay122 days
      cool
      • weirdisgood2023
        This is really interesting! Happy Hanukkah to anyone who celebrates!
      • beautifulbri
        Happy hanukkah I don't celebrate it but it looks cool and colourful
        • jeangray
          jeangrayabout 1 month
          Happy Hanukkah! Going to my uncle's house for hanukkah
          • exotic
            exoticabout 1 month
            I wish i celebrated Hanukkah 😢
            • deafgirl
              deafgirlabout 1 month
              Happy Hanukkah!!! I'm not Jewish and I don't celabrate Hanukkah but it looks so awesome and cool sometimes I wish I was Jewish because of the different holidays they have. Well anyways Happy Hanukkah every body!!!!!!!!!!!!!
              • emiliadw4
                emiliadw4about 1 month
                Happy Hanukkah! One of my friends is Jewish, so I always wondered more about the history of Hanukkah. This is so cool! Happy Hanukkah! 🕯
                • aeri
                  aeriabout 1 month
                  HAPPY HANUKKAH🕎
                  • aeri
                    aeriabout 1 month
                    Happy Hanukkah to everyone And my best friend is part Jewish it so cool