The History of Hanukkah


Each night of Hanukkah, a candle on the Jewish menorah is lit. Photo Credits: TOMERTU/ISTOCK via Getty Images

Hannah Moses, General

This year, Hanukkah will be celebrated from November 29th- December 6th, 2021.  Jewish people around the world celebrate this holiday.


What is Hanukkah? 


Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday that celebrates the dedicating of the second temple in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel.  It lasts seven days and eight nights, starting on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev.  Because the Hebrew calendar is different from the American calendar, Hanukkah can occur anytime from late November to late December. There are lots of different traditions and rituals associated with Hanukkah.  Many families celebrate the holiday by exchanging gifts each night.


One thing people do to celebrate is lighting the menorah– a special candelabrum with 9 candles–each night. Each day an additional candle is lit. The ninth candle, called the shamash, is usually in the middle and set higher than the other 8 to separate it from the rest.  It is also the only candle that is supposed to be used to light the other candles.


People who celebrate Hanukkah also eat special food during this time.The traditional food is fried in olive oil to represent the miracle of the burning oil lamp. Jewish people eat potato pancakes (latkes), doughnuts stuffed with jam, and fritters, which consist of various types of fried foods.  They generally consist of small pieces of meat, vegetables, fruit, or dough.


The History of Hanukkah


In 164 BCE, the Jewish people revolted against the Greeks in the Maccabean War.  After their victory they cleaned the temple and re-dedicated it.  There was an oil lamp that had only one day of oil left, but it miraculously burned for 8 days. This is called the miracle of the oil, and as a result, this is why there are 8 days on Hanukkah.


Fun Facts About Hanukkah

  1. Other spellings for the holiday include Chanukah and Chanukkah.
  2. Often, it is referred to as the Festival of Lights or as the Festival of Dedication
  3. Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word meaning ¨to dedicate.¨
  4. Haunkkah wasn’t a major Jewish holiday until the late 1800s.  Today, it’s one of the most popular and celebrated Jewish holidays.
  5. Another Hanukkah tradition is to give coins called gelt.
  6. The menorah candles are to burn for at least 30 minutes after the sun sets.