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What Is Hanukkah?

What Is Hanukkah?

Info you need about Chanukah

Photo credits: Flash90
Photo credits: Flash90

Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers and fried foods.

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.

What Chanukah Commemorates

Artist Dominic Alves captured this image of a snowy Chanukah in Brighton, UK.
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 ritual purity.

To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.

Read the full story of Chanukah.

How Chanukah Is Observed

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 December.

View (and print) a Chanukah calendar.

Chanukah Foods

Photo credit: Miriam Szokovski
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 sufganya (doughnut).

Find the perfect Chanukah recipe.

Dreidel: the Chanukah Game

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 play dreidel.

Chanukah Gelt

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 “chocolate gelt.”

Why we give gelt.

Enjoy a Chanukah Lesson From the Rebbe

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:

a. 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.

b. 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.

c. 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 light.

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)
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)

Other important Chanukah links:

Chanukah stories to tug at your heartstrings
Chanukah videos and songs
Chanukah Q&A
Chanukah essays and more

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David Lakeland TN December 23, 2017

Being only a frequent, but part-time attendee in an Episcopal Church, I recently took a very unique "class" instructed by a nice, very helpful Israeli citizen who grew up here. Some of his comments made me much more curious about life over there.

Years ago I lived right across the street from Ansher Sephard Synogogue in Memphis, but knowing nothing about the religion, I never tried to enter the building, and wish I had learned something about it.

Just now-for the first time-I read a good summary of what Hannukah is about, and was very surprised.
Despite really disliking long flights (> 9 hours), we want to visit Israel one day. Reply

Donna Australia December 22, 2017

Happy Chanukah to all 🇮🇱 and May the God of Issac, Jacob and Abraham bless you. It signifies another culture trying to wipe away the Jewish culture but May the spirit of Judah be with you all and continue to pass down the traditions of your faith Reply

Gloria USA December 17, 2017

To the CM at,
I want to wish you and all the Chabad Community a Happy Hanukkah!
You are my stronghold during my most trying moments...

Thanks to you and your teachings,
Since 14 years ago I belong to The Chabad Community here in USA and abroad. I’ve been sort of a beacon for those ethnic Jews that are afraid to embrace our way of life and faith. The Almighty One of Israel, B’H, gifted me with the gift of different languages and I have used it to translate to them the knowledge I have acquired from you. Many of them are now belonging to the Chabad Community.
I have learned so much about my Jewish faith through you... I do not have enough words in any language to thank you...

Hag Sameag! Reply

Fay Wolcott,N.Y. December 16, 2017

Chag Chanukah Sameach! Shabbat shalom! And may I also wish you all a Shavua tov! Reply

Tacy Oregon December 16, 2017

Wondering yep me too; G-d. Is the author afraid of the word God - it's not respectful in mis spelling and besides it is thrown around everywhere in praise or cursing. Reply

Bernd Hong Kong December 15, 2017

Happy Chanukah! Reply

Wondering December 14, 2017

Why can't you spell God, instead of G-d??? Reply

Anonymous December 15, 2017
in response to Wondering:

Please read "Why don't you spell out G-d's name?" in the article. Reply

Jenni Norway December 17, 2017
in response to Wondering:

Jewish people always spell it G-d Reply

AJ Green Bay,WI December 14, 2017

Thank you for the resource, the questions and answers in the comment section are equally educational.
As a Christian, I stand with our Hebrew brothers and sisters in unity. Reply

Joe Roguec miami December 13, 2017

Awesome, happy Hanukkah Reply

Janet Menegakis Shrewsbury December 13, 2017

The candles lit
And slowly burn
Back through the ages
Of time
Once on a window sill
Once in a temple
My flame lights the world
Again Reply

Ebere Nigeria December 13, 2017

Very educating Reply

Mohamed Ali A. S December 13, 2017

Shalom and have a blessed day !
Wish you all a Happy Hanukkah ! Reply

Anonymous Sydney Australia December 12, 2017

It's a great time of year to show more tolerance to all. We must all work together to make the world a better place! Reply

Manasseh Nigeria December 12, 2017

I am so grateful.. Thank you! Reply

Paul McCabe Australia December 12, 2017

my name is Paul Daniel McCabe and was surprised that a maacabbee was involved in the history of chanukah Reply

Gloria USA December 17, 2017
in response to Paul McCabe:

Be proud of holding such a last name! Reply

jaylin cisneros Valverde Elementry December 11, 2017

thank you for having this it helped me a lot Reply

Nancy Kirby West Palm Beach December 6, 2017

Chanukah Meaning Chanukah...After retaking Jerusalem, The Maccabees searched the entire Temple, but only one jar of oil bearing the pure seal of the High Priest could be found miraculously.
The small jar of oil eight days, giving us the eight day celebration of Chanukah.
Chanukah which means "dedication " in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Channukah Menorah is a nine branched candleabrum, lit during the 8 day holiday..The nineth one is called Shamash.

Happy Chanukah shabbat Shalom To All! G-D Bless.. Reply

Silvan Netherlands December 12, 2017
in response to Nancy Kirby:

Thanks for the explanation :) Reply

Joe roguec Miami December 13, 2017
in response to Silvan:

Great Nancy was excellent Reply

Marietta Benson Houston, TX December 6, 2017

Is there a greeting or saying (like happy holidays, etc.) to say? and how do you pronounce it (simply)? thank you. Reply

Diane Oakville via December 8, 2017
in response to Marietta Benson:

Its Chag Sameach or Chag Chanukah Sameach. Reply

Thom Miller Pennsylvania December 5, 2017

To all my Jewish brothers and sisters! I pray this will be the most blessed, safe and Happy Hunakka you have ever had !
GOD Bless each and every one of you and the great Nation of Israel!!
Thom Miller Reply

Joe Roguec December 13, 2017
in response to Thom Miller:

Happy Hanukkah for you brother!!! Reply

Melody California November 30, 2017

Very nice. Thank you. Reply

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