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.
Dosick, Wayne. Living Judaism: The CompleteGuidetoJewish Belief, Tradition and Practice. 1995.
Ross, Lesli Koppelman. Celebrate! The CompleteJewishHolidays Handbook. 1994.
Judith R. Baskin
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.
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.