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Chanukah Observances

Chanukah Observances

Latkes, donuts & cheese blintzes


Chanukah commemorates an oil-based miracle—which explains why we eat oily foods to commemorate it. Some eat fried potato pancakes, a.k.a. latkes, while others eat sufganiyot—deep-fried doughnuts. Some eat both. Most survive the holiday.

Yes, food can be dangerous. One of the greatest Maccabee victories was the result of feeding the enemy cheese—so we also eat dairy foods on Chanukah. Again, we survive. Click here for the full story.

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. They survive this, too.


Some have the admirable custom of gelt-giving each weeknight of ChanukahThe Greek oppressors outlawed Torah schools, so the children would study in the forests, posting sentries to alert them of Greek patrols. When the alert came, the children would hide their texts and start playing with dreidels (spinning tops).

We, too, play dreidel games on Chanukah to commemorate the courage of these heroic children. The four Hebrew letters on the dreidel are an acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham”—a great miracle happened there. So playing dreidel keeps us mindful of the Chanukah miracles even during fun and games.

The Prayers

Each day of Chanukah we thank G‑d by reciting the complete Hallel in the morning prayer service. We also insert a special prayer of thanksgiving, V’al Hanissim, in the prayers and Grace after Meals. Every morning we read from the Torah about the inauguration offerings brought in honor of the dedication of the Tabernacle—reminiscent of the Maccabean rededication of the defiled Temple.

Shabbat Chanukah

On Friday afternoon, light the menorah before lighting the Shabbat candles. The Friday night Chanukah candles must burn for at least 1½ hours—so you may need more oil or larger candles. On Saturday night, light the menorah after dark, after the Havdalah ceremony.

Click here for more on Chanukah observances.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Gersh the Mentch KS December 15, 2015

To Ronniteach I think it is just in the song. Reply

Ronniteach December 11, 2015

Chanukah candles Just curious, does each candle signify something different? There is a Chanukah song where each candle stands for something, but it may be just in the song. Happy Chanukah to all. Reply

Menachem Posner for Montreal, QC December 2, 2010

RE: Menorah You bring up a very interesting point. While modern Hebrew has indeed dubbed the Chanukah candelabra "chanukiah," its traditional name is actually "menorah," just like its seven-branched parent in the Temple in Jerusalem. In many Diaspora communities, "menorah" is still the word of choice. Reply

Anonymous CR, IA December 1, 2010

Thank you Being Christian Channukah is a foreign idea but being a mother I realize it is important for children to be well rounded. I want to do my part to irradicate religious prejudice, thank you for having such an accesible site to help create a generation of understanding. Reply

Harvey Harrison Liverpool, UK December 1, 2010

Menorah You refer to lighting the Menorah on friday night before the shabbos candles.
Surely you mean Chanukiah as there is a difference between the two as to the amount of arms on each? Reply

Diana G Greenville, TX November 30, 2010

Chanukah around the world My great-grandparents were from Eastern Europe (Poland and Russia) and noted that, in their childhood, the "gelt" was real money. In my own childhood, it was more often in the form of special coin-shaped chocolates covered with gold-colored foil. I remember feeling sorry for Grandma and Grandpa because I much preferred the chocolate.... Reply

batya oregon December 10, 2009

heritage? i assume your child's heritage is Jewish...she is not russian or german or polish! hailing from those places, however, sounds like you are ashkenazi, in which case look for ashkenazi customs as opposed to sefardi customs. but for all of us, the tradition is to publicize the two miracles (the triumph of the maccabees and the lasting of one day's worth of oil for eight), give tzedakah (charity), eat oily and cheesey foods (do you know the story of yehudit?) et cetera. have fun! Reply

Anonymous Franklin, MA December 8, 2009

Channukah around the world My child came home with an assignment to describe how her family celebrates the winter holiday of her heritage. Hailing from Germany, Russia, Poland and Italy but we are 3rd generation Americans, we have no one to ask. So I am hoping you can assist. Besides the rituals lighting the Chanukiah, dreidle games, etc., are there any customs unique to the countries noted above? Every web site I viewed really gave the same explanations - but nothing unique to a particular region or country. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated! Thank you. Shalom Reply

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