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Printable Chanukah Guide - 2016

Printable Chanukah Guide - 2016

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Chanukah in a Nutshell


What Is Hanukkah?

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 pay 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.

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

Blessings on the Kindling of the Menorah

Click here for the blessings in Hebrew, transliteration and translation of the blessings on the kindling of the menorah.

V'al Hanissim

During the eight days of Chanukah, we add the V'al Hanissim ("And for the miracles...") section in the amidah (daily silent prayers) and in the Grace after Meals. In this section we summarize the miracles of the Maccabee victory, and thank G‑d for the "miracles, redemption, mighty deeds, saving acts and wonders" that He wrought for our ancestors.

Click here for the Hebrew text of the V'al Hanissim, as well as an English translation.

Hallel

Every day of Chanukah, we recite the complete Hallel in the course of the morning prayers. The Hallel is a sequence of praise and gratitude-themed psalms (Psalms 113-118) that is recited on Jewish holidays.

Torah Reading

The Torah is read every day immediately following the Hallel. The Chanukah readings are from the Book of Numbers (7:1-8:4), and discuss the dedication of the Tabernacle, the gifts that the tribal leaders brought in honor of the inauguration, and the command to Aaron to kindle the Tabernacle Menorah daily.

On Chanukah, too, we celebrate the dedication (or, to be precise, the re-dedication) of the Temple by the Maccabees after it had been defiled and contaminated by the Greeks. And the command to Aaron to kindle the Menorah is also an allusion to the Chanukah Menorah, a mitzvah that we have thanks to the bravery of Aaron's descendants—the priestly Hasmonean family that led the Maccabeean armies in battle against the Greeks.

Click here for the Chanukah readings along with commentary and contemporary insights.

Chanukah Hymns

Various hymns have been composed in honor of Chanukah. The two most popular ones are Maoz Tzur and Haneirot Halalu, which are traditionally sung after the lighting of the Menorah.

Chanukah Gelt

During Chanukah it is customary to give gelt (money) to children, so that we can teach them to give some of it to charity—and just to keep things festive and happy. Some have the admirable custom of gelt-giving each weeknight of Chanukah. In Chabad, it is customary to give gelt every night, but to hand out a heftier sum on the fourth or fifth night.

Click here for some deeper reasons for the Chanukah gelt custom.

On Chanukah, it is also customary to increase one's daily disbursement to charity.

Chanukah Foods

Oil played a significant role in the Chanukah story—the small jug of oil that miraculously provided fuel for the Temple Menorah for eight days. It is a Jewish tradition to eat foods that reflect the significance of a holiday – such as matzah on Passover, and apple dipped in honey on Rosh Hashanah – and Chanukah is no exception. For at least the last thousand years, Jews have traditionally eaten oily foods on Chanukah.

Among the most popular Chanukah dishes are potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiot (deep-fried doughnuts).

Actually, oil is also symbolic of the spiritual war waged by the Maccabees. See The War Is All About The Oil for more on this topic.

It is also customary to eat dairy foods on Chanukah, in commemoration of the bravery of Yehudit. Click here to read the story of this brave woman whose daring courage led to a great Maccabee victory.

Click here for traditional Chanukah recipes.

Dreidel Playing Guide

The traditional Chanukah dreidel (spinning top) is a throwback to the times when the Greek armies of King Antiochus controlled the Holy Land, before the Maccabees defeated them and sent them packing. The powerful regime passed a series of laws outlawing the study of Torah and many of the mitzvot. The Jews were compelled to take their Torah learning “underground,” for they knew that a Jew without Torah is like a fish out of water.

Jewish children resorted to learning Torah in outlying areas and forests. Even this plan was not foolproof, for the enemy had many patrols. The children therefore brought along small tops that they would quickly pull out and play with after secreting away their texts, so that they could pretend to be merely playing games.

Our Chanukah dreidel games are a salute to these Jewish heroes of yore.

The classic dreidel is a four sided spinning top made of wood, plastic, or the proverbial clay. On the four sides of the dreidel appear four letters from the Hebrew alphabet—nun (נ), gimmel (ג), hey (ה), and shin (ש). These four letters are an acronym for "nes gadol hayah sham"—"a great miracle happened there."

In Israel, the actual setting of the Chanukah miracle, the last letter, shin, is substituted with a pey (פ), which stands for "po"—"here."

  1. All players sit around the playing area.
  2. The "ante" is equally divided amongst all players.
  3. Everyone takes a turn at spinning the dreidel; the one with the highest spin has first turn. (Nun is highest, then gimmel, hey, and shin.) If there is a tie for highest, those who tied spin again.
  4. Everyone puts one unit of the ante (penny, nut, etc.) into the pot.
  5. The one who has first turn is followed in clockwise direction by all the others.
  6. Player A spins the dreidel while everyone waits in utter suspense (in the interest of speeding up the game, some knock down the dreidel mid-spin instead of waiting for it to come to a rest).

If the dreidel lands on a...

Nun - נ

You've just wasted your time. Absolutely nothing happens. You may as well have taken a bathroom break instead of that useless spin. Better luck next time!

Nun stands for the Yiddish word nul, which means zero, nothing, nil. After your exercise in futility it's time now for the player to your left to take a spin.

If however your dreidel landed on a...

Gimmel - ג

Wow! Amazing! You did it! You get to take the whole pot! Take it quick and then do a little victory dance around the room. Pay no attention to the envious stares you are getting. You are an absolute dreidel pro!

Gimmel stands for gantz, which means whole. Everyone, including you, now puts another unit of the ante into the pot, and the person to your left tries his luck at spinning.

But, it's hard to be so lucky every time. Sometimes your dreidel will land on a...

Hey - ה

Okay, you could have done better, but you could have done worse. You get to take half of the pot. If the pot has an odd amount of units, don't try to split that penny, nut, or piece of chocolate in half. Leave it there. Take the high road. Let the others believe that it is beneath you to care...

Hey stands for halb, half. The pot has now been diminished, and it's time for the player to your left to take a stab at riches.

But don't complain. The dreidel could have landed on a...

Shin - ש

The absolute worst. The dregs. You now have to put another unit into the pot! You better figure out how to improve your spinning technique before you will be forced to take out a second mortgage on your home.

Shin is for shenk; yes, that means give. Your hope now is that the pot will still be around next time it is your turn to spin. Maybe then you'll get a gimmel and recoup your losses...

The absolute worst. The dregs. You now have to put another unit into the pot! You better figure out how to improve your spinning technique before you will be forced to take out a second mortgage on your home.

Shin is for shenk; yes, that means give. Your hope now is that the pot will still be around next time it is your turn to spin. Maybe then you'll get a gimmel and recoup your losses...

Useful Chanukah Links

How-To and Tools

Global Chanukah Event Search

Holiday E-Greeting Cards

Chanukah 2014 Calendar

Menorah Lighting Guide

Menorah Lighting Guide (Video)

Chanukah Kids' Zone

Chanukah Recipes

Chanukah Shopping

Chanukah Study

Chanukah FAQ

Story of Chanukah

Chanukah Stories

Insights & Inspiration

Chanukah Videos

Holiday Songs

Audio Classes

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