Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of
lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried
The Hebrew word Chanukah means
“dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the
Holy Temple (as you’ll read below). Also spelled Hanukkah (or variations of
that spelling), the Hebrew word is actually pronounced with a guttural, “kh”
sound, kha-nu-kah, not tcha-new-kah.
Artist Dominic Alves captured this image of a snowy Chanukah in Brighton, UK.
In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the
Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the people of Israel to accept
Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led
by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the
Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it
to the service of G‑d.
When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah (the
seven-branched candelabrum), they found only a single cruse of olive oil that
had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of
To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages
instituted the festival of Chanukah.
Read the full story of Chanukah.
How Chanukah Is
At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah
lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant”), which is used to
kindle the other eight lights. On the first night, we light just one flame. On
the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah,
all eight lights are kindled.
Special blessings are recited, often to a
traditional melody, before the menorah is lit, and traditional
songs are sung afterward.
A menorah is lit in every household (or even by each
individual within the household) and placed in a doorway or window. The menorah is
also lit in synagogues and other public places. In recent years, thousands of
jumbo menorahs have cropped up in front of city halls and
legislative buildings, and in malls and parks all over the world.
We recite the special Hallel prayer daily, and add V’Al HaNissim
in our daily prayers and in the Grace After Meals, to offer praise and
thanksgiving to G‑d for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the
many into the hands of the few ... the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”
Read the full menorah-lighting guide.
Learn what to expect at a public menorah lighting.
When Is Chanukah?
Chanukah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 and continues for
eight days. On the civil calendar, it generally coincides with the month of
View (and print) a Chanukah calendar.
Photo credit: Miriam Szokovski
Since the Chanukah miracle involved oil, it is
customary to eat foods fried in oil. The Eastern-European classic is the potato
latke (pancake) garnished with
applesauce or sour cream, and the reigning Israeli favorite is the jelly-filled
Find the perfect Chanukah recipe.
Dreidel: the Chanukah
On Chanukah, it is customary to play with a “dreidel” (a
four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters, nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for nes
gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there”). The game is usually
played for a pot of coins, nuts, or
other stuff, which is won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands when
it is spun.
Learn how to pay dreidel.
In today’s consumer-driven society, people tend to place
great importance on giving Chanukah gifts. However, the tradition is actually
to give Chanukah gelt, gifts of
money, to children. In addition to rewarding positive behavior and devotion to Torah study, the cash gifts give the children the opportunity to give tzedakah (charity). This has also spawned the phenomenon of foil-covered
Why we give gelt.
What It Means For You
Noting that one should spend time in close proximity to
the Chanukah lights, the Previous Rebbe would say, “We must listen
carefully to what the candles are saying.” So what are the flickering flames
telling us? Here are some messages:
Never be afraid to stand up
for what’s right. Judah Maccabee and his band faced daunting odds, but that
didn’t stop them. With a prayer on their lips and faith in their heart, they
entered the battle of their lives—and won. We can do the same.
Always increase in matters of
goodness and Torah-observance. Sure, a single flame was good enough for yesterday, but today needs
to be even better.
A little light goes a long
way. The Chanukah candles are lit when dusk is falling. Perched in the doorway,
they serve as a beacon for the darkening streets. No matter how dark it is
outside, a candle of G‑dly goodness can transform the darkness itself into
d. Take it to the streets. Chanukah is unique in that its primary
mitzvah is observed in public. It’s not enough to be a Jew at heart, or even at
home. Chanukah teaches us to shine outwards into our surroundings with the G‑dly
glow of mitzvahs.
e. Don't be ashamed to perform mitzvahs, even if you will feel different. Rather, be like a menorah, proudly proclaiming its radiant uniqueness for all to see.
Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg of Afula, Israel, the father of Rivkah Holtzberg, lights a 25-foot steel menorah during Chanukah 2008 in front of the Gateway of India in Mumbai just weeks after his daughter and son-in-law, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, were killed in a terrorist attack. Gavriel Holtzberg would light that menorah each year. (Photo by Serge Attal/Flash90)
Chanukah stories to tug at your heartstrings
Chanukah videos and songs
Chanukah essays and more