views updated May 21 2018


This eight-day festival, also known as "Festival of Lights," begins on 25 Kislev (late November to December). One of the few Jewish holidays not ordained in the Hebrew Bible, Chanukah or Hanukkah ("Rededication") commemorates the 165 b.c.e. victory of Jewish traditionalists over a military/political alliance of Syrian Greeks and Jewish Hellenists trying to eliminate Judaism in the land of Israel. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee and his four brothers, the Jerusalem Temple was cleansed of foreign idols and rededicated to divine service, and this new festival was proclaimed. These events are recorded in the Apocrypha (1 and 2 Maccabees). A Jewish legend from early rabbinic times (second to third centuries c.e.) associates a miracle with Chanukah: Pure oil used to rekindle the menorah (candelabrum) in the temple, apparently only sufficient for one day, lasted eight days. Also in this period the central holiday ritual, kindling lights on a Chanukah menorah (or chanukiah) for eight nights, beginning with one and moving up to eight, was instituted. Many modern Jews understand Chanukah as epitomizing human struggles for religious freedom.

Chanukah is a minor holiday, and its observance, primarily domestic, doesn't require absence from work or school. A joyous holiday for children, traditionally celebrated with games, small money gifts (gelt), and oil-fried foods such as potato pancakes (latkes), Chanukah has disproportionate prominence in North America because it occurs near Christmas. Although the two holidays have no connection, giving of presents, sending cards, and inclusion of Chanukah in public seasonal celebrations are features of this festival's contemporary commemoration.

See alsoBelonging, Religious; Jewish Identity; Jewish Observance; Judaism.


Dosick, Wayne. Living Judaism: The CompleteGuidetoJewish Belief, Tradition and Practice. 1995.

Ross, Lesli Koppelman. Celebrate! The CompleteJewishHolidays Handbook. 1994.

Judith R. Baskin


views updated May 23 2018


CHANUKAH, the Festival of Lights, celebrates Jewish religion and culture, candlelight symbolizing the beauty and warmth of Judaism. This minor holiday begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar, usually occurring in late December.

The festival marks the triumph of Judas Maccabeus over Greek ruler Antiochus IV and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 164 b.c. According to legend, in the Temple a lamp held enough oil for one day but burned for eight. This miracle is recalled by the eight-armed menorah, a candelabra, which also has an additional arm for a kindling light.

Chanukah is a family feast. For eight days, Jews recite blessings and read from the Torah. They light the menorah after dusk, lighting the first candle on the right, then kindling an additional candle, moving from left to right each evening. Special holiday foods include cheese delicacies and latkes, potato pancakes. In the evenings family members may play games with a dreidl, a spinning top, for Chanukah gelt (chocolate coins).

In the United States the celebration of Chanukah has been increasingly commercialized. However, the marketing of Chanukah has not reached the levels associated with Christmas, a Christian holiday thoroughly exploited by retailers, due probably to the relatively small Jewish population and the tradition of giving only small gifts each night of the festival.


Schauss, Hayyim. The Jewish Festivals: A Guide to Their History and Observance. New York: Schocken, 1996.

Trepp, Leo. The Complete Book of Jewish Observance. New York: Summit, 1980.

Regina M.Faden


views updated May 11 2018

Ḥanukkah (Heb., ‘Dedication’). Jewish Festival of Lights. Ḥanukkah begins on 25 Kislev and lasts for eight days. According to 1 Maccabees 4. 36–59, Judas Maccabee purified the Temple after the Hellenistic desecration and rededicated it on 25 Kislev. Celebrations lasted for eight days. The story of one day's supply of the holy oil miraculously lasting eight days is legendary and dates back to the days of the tannaim. After the lamp is lit, a short prayer beginning, ‘Ha-nerot hallalu’ (These lamps) is recited. A short summary of the Ḥanukkah story is included in the Amida and during the course of grace after meals. Card-playing is traditionally associated with the festival, as is spinning the dreidel (spinning-top). The Ḥanukkah lamp or menorah is a prominent ritual object in every Jewish household, and has become a vehicle for the display of artistic craftsmanship.


views updated Jun 08 2018

Ha·nuk·kah / ˈkhänəkə; ˈhänəkə/ (also Cha·nu·kah) • n. a lesser Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December) and commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 bc by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.


views updated May 29 2018

Hanukkah (Chanukah or Feast of Lights) Eight-day festival celebrated in Judaism. It commemorates the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple in 165 bc, and the miracle of a one-day supply of oil lasting for eight days.


views updated May 21 2018

Hanukkah a lesser Jewish festival, lasting eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December) and commemorating the rededication of the Temple in 165 bc by the Maccabees after its desecration by the Syrians. It is marked by the successive kindling of eight lights.


views updated May 21 2018

Cha·nu·kah • n. variant spelling of Hanukkah.