Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah) is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights that takes place during winter. It is celebrated by lighting a menorah every night, reciting special prayers, and eating fried foods. The word Chanukah means “dedication” in Hebrew, and the festival commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple over 2,000 years ago by the Maccabees.

When Is the Menorah Lit?

The Chanukah lights are lit in the evenings preceding each of the eight days of Chanukah, beginning with Wednesday night, December 25, 2024.

Who Lights The Menorah

Both men and women are obligated to light the Chanukah menorah (you can browse a selection of menorahs here), or to participate in the household menorah lighting. Children should be encouraged to light their own menorahs. Students and singles who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms.

Where To Place The Menorah

Many have the custom to place the menorah in a doorway opposite the mezuzah (such is the custom of Chabad-Lubavitch), so that the two mitzvot of mezuzah and Chanukah surround the person. Others place it on a windowsill facing a public thoroughfare. (If placed on the windowsill, it should be no higher than 20 cubits—about 29 feet—above street level.)

Make sure the menorah is on a sturdy, fireproof surface that is out of the reach of children and not near curtains or other flammable materials (more safety tips).

Setting Up The Menorah

The Chanukah lights should consist of lamps or candles—i.e., a flammable fuel that feeds a visible flame via a wick. The most ideal way to fulfill the mitzvah is with cotton wicks in olive oil, or beeswax candles; paraffin candles or other types of candles or lamps are also acceptable, but not gas lights or electric lights. (If circumstances do not allow the use of an open flame, a proper rabbinical authority should be consulted.)

The lamps or candles must contain enough fuel, at the time of the lighting, to burn until half an hour after nightfall. (“Nightfall” is the point at which it grows dark enough for three average-sized stars to be visible—about 20–30 minutes after sunset, depending on the location.)

The lamps or candles should be arranged in a straight row, and should be of equal height. The shamash—the “servant” candle that kindles the other lights—should be placed apart from the rest (higher, outside the row, etc.).

On the first night of Chanukah, one light is kindled on the right side of the menorah. On the following night add a second light to the left of the first, and kindle the new light first, proceeding from left to right, and so on each night.

When To Light Your Menorah

The Chanukah lights are kindled in the evening preceding each of the eight days of Chanukah. The custom of many communities (and such is the Chabad-Lubavitch custom) is to light the menorah shortly after sunset; other communities light it at nightfall. In either case, the menorah must contain enough fuel at the time of the lighting to burn until 30 minutes after nightfall. Note: The standard Chanukah candles last only approximately 30 minutes. If using those candles, then light after nightfall every night (aside from Friday—see below). For exact times, click here.

If one did not kindle the Chanukah lights early in the evening, they can be kindled later, as long as there are people in the streets (or others awake in the house).

Special Shabbat Requirements

IMPORTANT: It is forbidden to light a fire on Shabbat, which extends from sunset on Friday evening until nightfall on Saturday night. Therefore, on Friday evening, Dec. 8, the Chanukah lights should be kindled early, before the Shabbat lights, which are lit 18 minutes before sundown. Additional oil or larger candles should be used for the Chanukah lights, to make sure they will last a full half hour after nightfall—the standard 30-minute Chanukah candles cannot be used on Friday.

From the time the Shabbat candles are lit (Friday evening) until Shabbat ends (after nightfall Saturday night) and until the havdalah prayer (separating Shabbat from the weekday) is recited, the Chanukah menorah should not be relit, moved or prepared.

Chanukah lights for Saturday night are kindled only after Shabbat ends after nightfall.

Blessings To Recite Before Lighting the Menorah

Community member Leslie Evans, left, lit the sand menorah in Palm Beach.
Community member Leslie Evans, left, lit the sand menorah in Palm Beach.

On the first night of Chanukah (Wednesday, December 25, 2024), recite all three blessings. On all subsequent nights, recite blessings number 1 and 2.

1. Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.

1. Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm ah-sher ki-deh-shah-noo beh-mitz-voh-tahv veh-tzee-vah-noo leh-hahd-lik nayr kha-noo-kah.

2. Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

2. Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm sheh-ah-sah nee-sim lah-ah-voh-tay-noo bah-yah-mim hah-haym biz-mahn hah-zeh.

3. Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.

3. Bah-rookh ah-tah ah-doh-noi eh-loh-hay-noo meh-lekh hah-oh-lahm sheh-heh-kheh-yah-noo veh-kee-mah-noo ve-hig-ee-yah-noo liz-mahn hah-zeh.

After kindling the lights, the Haneirot Halalu prayer is recited.

Sitting by the Lights

One is not to benefit from the light of the candles, only from the shamash and other sources of light. For the first half hour when the candles are burning, it is customary to sit by the candles and tell stories relating to the holiday.

Work should not be done in the proximity of the burning candles. Women have a custom to refrain from household work during the half hour that the lights are burning, to honor the brave Jewish women who played a significant role in the Chanukah story.

More Chanukah Prayers

During the eight days of Chanukah, we add the Al HaNissim liturgy to the amidah (daily silent prayer) and the Grace After Meals.

The complete Hallel prayer (see your prayerbook) is also said in the morning service.

A portion of the Torah is read daily in the synagogue during morning prayers.

Give Extra Charity

It is customary to increase one’s daily giving to charity. On Fridays we give double the amount, to account for Shabbat.

Holiday Foods

Photo credit: Miriam Szokovski
Photo credit: Miriam Szokovski

Because of the great significance of oil in the story of the Chanukah miracle, it is traditional to serve foods cooked in oil. Among the most popular Chanukah dishes are potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts).

It is also customary to eat dairy foods on Chanukah, in commemoration of the bravery of Yehudit. Click here to find out more.

Browse dozens of Chanukah recipes.

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.

Get yourself some fun dreidels.

Chanukah Gelt

Stacks of coins of different sizes.

It is traditional to give all children Chanukah gelt (money).

Of course, this beautiful custom adds to the children’s happiness and festive spirit. In addition, it gives adults an opportunity to give the children positive reinforcement for exemplary behavior, such as diligence in their studies and acts of charity.

Chanukah gelt is given to children after lighting the menorah. The children should be encouraged to give charity from a portion of their money.