What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, Hanuka, or the Festival of Lights is a Jewish holiday that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and refers to the Maccabean Jews regaining control of Jerusalem. Even though Hanukkah isn’t a major holiday in strictly religious terms, it has gained significance in North America because it often falls near Christmas.
When is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nights. It starts at the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew Calendar. This corresponds to a date somewhere between late November and late December in the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, Hannukah will begin on the evening of Thursday, December 7, and end on the evening of Friday, December 15.
Hanukkah is mostly celebrated by families at home, but there also are additions to the worship services during Hanukkah.
CandlesIt is traditional to light a special candelabra, known as a menorah, chanukiah or hanukkiyah during Hanukkah. Menorahs have nine candle holders, eight for the eight days of Hannukah, and a ninth one called a shammash, which is the candle used to light the other candles. This is used because the eight candles are holy and may not be used to light each other. The first night, only the shammash and the first candle are lit. Each successive night, one additional candle is placed and lit so that on the eighth and last night, all nine candles are lit.
FoodIt is customary to eat fried food to commemorate the miracle of a jar of oil which kept the Second Temple's Menorah alight for eight days. Common treats are latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts); also popular are bimuelos (fried dough puffs), sfenj (yeast doughnuts) and keftes de prasas (fried leek patties).
DreidelsAfter the candles are lit, it is time for a game of dreidel. A dreidel is a spinning top adapted from an old gambling game. Hanukkah was one of the few times of the year where rabbis used to permit games of chance. A dreidel has four sides, showing four Hebrew letters: nun, gimel, hey, and shin. Players put a number of game pieces into the pot at the beginning of the game and take some for themselves. These can be chocolate coins (called gelt), buttons, or other small items. Each player in turn spins the dreidel and depending on the result, takes nothing, everything, or half, or puts one game piece in the pot.
GiftsAlthough, as with Christmas, originally there was no link between Hanukkah and gifts, in modern times it has become customary to give gifts. This is in part to make the celebration more fun for kids. Gelt (chocolate coins) are often given to children, and people also organize “Secret Santa” gift exchanges for their Hanukkah celebrations.
Secret Santa rulesThe first step in a Secret Santa is to determine who will participate, and then draw names. You can draw names from a hat, but it is much easier and more convenient to use drawnames.com for this. After that, you buy each other gifts. If you use our website, you can add a wish list. This makes it easy to buy a gift for the person you drew using the integrated gift finder. Finally, the last step is to get together and exchange the gifts. You can find more detailed rules for Secret Santa here.
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We wish you a very happy Hanukkah!