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Understanding Hanukkah and Its Global Celebrations

by Andrew Wright
4 comments
Hanukkah Celebrations

Also referred to as Chanukah or by various other Hebrew transliterations, Hanukkah is celebrated as the “festival of lights” in Judaism. During this eight-day celebration, Jews gather each evening to light an additional candle on the menorah, a candelabrum with multiple branches.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah translates to “dedication.” This holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple in the 2nd century BC. A small band of Jewish warriors reclaimed the temple from foreign invaders.

A critical part of the Hanukkah story is the menorah lighting in the temple, fueled by a small quantity of consecrated oil, which miraculously burned for eight days. This event is honored through the nightly candle lighting and preparing oil-fried foods like latkes, or potato pancakes.

Further Reading

  • For a unique twist on latkes, try these ginger sweet potato pancakes with a hint of orange zest.
  • The significance of Hanukkah’s message, particularly its relevance to US Jews in times of conflict and antisemitism.
  • Hanukkah 2023 dates.

Hanukkah dates align with the Hebrew month of Kislev, typically coinciding with November or December on the Gregorian calendar. In 2023, Hanukkah will be observed from December 7 to December 15.

Variations in Hanukkah Observance

Jews of various denominational practices, from Reform to Orthodox, focus on the theme of bringing light into darkness and the power of small efforts to effect change.

Despite Talmudic debates on the candle lighting order, the common practice is to begin with one candle and add one each night while reciting special blessings. Candles are placed from right to left but lit from left to right on the menorah, which has eight branches plus a ninth spot for the shamash, or helper candle.

During the “Hanukkah on the Pier” event in San Clemente, California, participants gathered around a 10-foot menorah. Real candles are traditionally used, though electric ones are also employed in public spaces for safety.

Celebrating Hanukkah

Each household lights a menorah, typically placed in a visible spot like a window or doorway, symbolizing the spread of divine light. Public menorah lightings have become increasingly common worldwide, often near iconic landmarks.

Charitable giving and social action are also integral to Hanukkah, reflecting the Jewish call to better the world.


This coverage of religion by Big Big News is supported by The Conversation US and Lilly Endowment Inc., with the AP retaining full editorial responsibility for the content.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Hanukkah Celebrations

What is Hanukkah and how is it celebrated?

Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is a Jewish festival of lights celebrated over eight days. It involves lighting an additional candle each night on a special candelabrum called a menorah. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in the 2nd century BC and the miracle of a small quantity of oil burning for eight days. Traditional celebrations include lighting candles, eating oil-fried foods like latkes, and performing charitable acts.

Why do Hanukkah dates vary each year?

Hanukkah dates are determined by the Hebrew calendar and correspond to the month of Kislev. This month usually falls in November or December of the Gregorian calendar. The variation is due to the lunar-based Hebrew calendar, leading to different Hanukkah dates each year in the Gregorian calendar.

What is the significance of the menorah during Hanukkah?

The menorah, a multi-branched candelabrum, is central to Hanukkah celebrations. It symbolizes the miracle of the temple’s menorah staying lit for eight days with a limited oil supply. Each night, an additional candle is lit to commemorate this miracle. The menorah is usually placed in a visible location to spread the message of hope and divine light.

How do Hanukkah observances differ among Jewish denominations?

While the core theme of bringing light into darkness is consistent across Jewish denominations, there are variations in observance. These differences include the order of lighting candles on the menorah and the types of activities and prayers involved. However, all denominations emphasize the holiday’s message of resilience and faith.

More about Hanukkah Celebrations

  • Hanukkah History and Customs
  • The Hebrew Calendar Explained
  • The Symbolism of the Menorah
  • Variations in Jewish Religious Practices

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4 comments

DavidK December 7, 2023 - 5:44 pm

is it just me or does the date for Hanukkah seem to change every year? kinda confusing tbh

Reply
JennyLovesHistory December 7, 2023 - 7:40 pm

loved the part about the menorah! didn’t know it had so much meaning behind it

Reply
Mike87 December 8, 2023 - 1:30 am

Really good article but I think you could’ve explained more about why Hanukkah is sometimes called Chanukah? Just a thought

Reply
SarahB December 8, 2023 - 3:08 am

nice job on covering the traditions but maybe add more about modern celebrations? how do people celebrate nowadays?

Reply

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