Hanukkah : Candles, First Night, Things to Do

Hanukkah : Candles, First Night, Things to Do

By Ruru Zhou | Updated Feb. 21, 2024

Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, is an important Jewish festival to commemorate the victory and miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days, symbolizing the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. It lasts for 8 days, during which Jewish families light candles on a special menorah each night. Families gather to exchange gifts, play games, and enjoy traditional foods like latkes and sufganiyot.

  • Hanukkah 2024 Date:: December 7th - December 15th.
  • Hanukkah 2025 Date: December 25  - January 2 
  • Celebrations: lighting candles and adding a candle to the menorah each day
  • Significance: Commemorating the miracle that occurred during the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem

What is Hanukkah and Why It is Celebrated?

Hanukkah 2023

Hanukkah is a Hebrew word that means 'dedication'. The festival of Hanukkah remembers a historic dedication of the Jerusalem Temple with the lighting of candles, so the festival is also popularly known as the (Jewish) "Festival of Lights".

During the festival, Jewish families will light a candle and add a candle to the menorah each day during the 8-day event.

The festival is celebrated in honor of the victory of the Jewish people over the Greeks. The Maccabees, led by Judah, retook the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to their God. They only had enough oil to light for one night, but the light miraculously burned for eight days. This event is referred to as the miracle of oil by Jews. Every year, Jewish families light a candle on a menorah to honor the miracle of the oil for each day of the 8-day event.

When is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah 2023 calendar

The date of Hanukkah is based on the Jewish calendar. It begins on the 25th of Kislev (the ninth month) and ends on the 2nd or 3rd of Tevet (the 10th month) of the Hebrew (Jewish) calendar.

Because the Hebrew calendar does not match up with the Gregorian calendar, the date of Hanukkah changes every year. It usually takes place in the months of November and December in the Gregorian calendar.

Where Hanukkah Is Celebrated?

Hanukkah is celebrated in Israel and Jewish communities in other countries such as the United States.

Hanukkah in Isreal

Tower of David,Jerusalem,Israel

In Israel, Hanukkah is considered an important event. On the evening of December 7, the first night of Hanukkah 2023, Jewish families will light the first candle on the menorah. They usually place their menorahs or Hanukkahs, on the windows. This practice aims to share the joy and significance of the holiday with others who pass by.

Hanukkah is a school holiday in Israel but not a national public holiday. During the 8-day holiday, schools close. However, it is business as usual for most workplaces. Tourist attractions, offices, and government buildings remain open during Hanukkah.

Hanukkah in the USA

In the United States, Hanukkah is celebrated from the evening of Thu, Dec 7, 2023 – Fri, Dec 15, 2023. Although is not a public holiday, it is very important for the Jewish communities. Jewish families celebrate the event by lighting candles, praying, exchanging gifts, and enjoying a family feast, a bit like Christmas for the Western people.

There may be large menorahs displayed in public squares and parks, serving as public symbols of the holiday and bringing the spirit of Hanukkah to the wider community.

What Do the Eight Days of Hanukkah Stand For?

The light of Hanukkah

Hanukkah lasts for 8 days to honor the miracle of oil during the recapture of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabee army. The oil, which was only expected to light the lamp signifying the presence of God for one night, miraculously burned for eight days until new oil could be prepared.

Therefore, the 8 days of Hanukkah symbolize the miracle and the significance of the oil that burned continuously in the temple's menorah.

How is Hanukkah Traditionally Celebrated?

Hannukkah food

Hanukkah is traditionally celebrated to commemorate the miracle that occurred during the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The major celebrations centered around lighting the candles but there are also other things people do for the festival such as eating festive food and reciting blessings. etc.

Lighting Candles: On the first night of the festival, Jewish families will light the first candle. From then on, they add a candle to the menorah each day until the last day. In Israel and Jewish communities around the world, large menorahs are also placed in public squares. The bright flames of the candles symbolize the passing of hope and strength.

Reciting Blessings: When lighting the menorah, the Jews also recite specific blessings, acknowledging the significance of the festival and the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days.

Eating Special Foods: People will eat fried foods or dishes cooked in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) are popular dishes enjoyed during the festival.

Giving and Receiving Gifts: While the tradition of gift-giving during Hanukkah is not rooted in ancient customs, it has become increasingly common in modern times, especially influenced by the proximity to the Christmas holiday season in Western countries. Children often receive small presents or gelt during the first night of Hanukkah.

Greeting each other: People will greet each other with the phrase "חג חנוכה שמח" Chag Hanukkah Sameach - Happy Hanukkah in English.

What is not Allowed during Hanukkah?

As this festival is a joyful occasion, nothing special is forbidden. Jewish people celebrate the festival with great joy.

How Do You Wish Someone a Happy Hanukkah?

You can wish your friends/colleagues by just saying 'Happy Hanukkah' (Chag Hanukkah sameach), or 'Happy Festival of Lights' (Chag Urim sameach). As it is an 8-day celebration, you can give your greetings on any of these days. Read more on 11 Most Popular Greetings for Hanukkah 2023.

What Foods Do Jews Eat during Hanukkah?

As the festival commemorates the oil that lasted for 8 days, Jewish people eat food associated with oil during the festival such as deep-fried dishes. The most traditional food for Hanukkah is Latkes (fried potato pancakes).

Another popular food for the festival is cheese which is to celebrate Judith's victory. Judith was a Jewish widow who saved her village by seducing and beheading the Assyrian general Holofernes, thereby leading to their freedom and victory against the Assyrian army

The First Night of Hanukkah - Things to Do

Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel, Hanukkah

The first night is considered to be the most important time for the festival as it commemorates the victory of the Jewish people over the Greeks, resulting in the reclamation and rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

 The moment the sun goes down, Jewish families will light the first candle together (in the far-right position of the Hanukkah menorah). The lighting of the first candle signifies the start of the festival.

Once the candles are lit, Jewish families begin to pray to express gratitude and commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah. After praying, family members gather together to enjoy traditional festival foods, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts), Additionally, families engage in playing the traditional Hanukkah game, Dreidel. Parents may also give gifts to their children during this time, including chocolate gelt (coins).

Last Day of Hanukkah - Things To Do

Hanukkah lights

The last day of Hanukkah is known as Zose Hanukkah, Zos Hanukkah, or Zot Hanukkah.

On the last night, people will light the last candle, and all eight candles on the Hanukkah menorah will burn brightly, creating a festive and joyous atmosphere.

The flames of the candles not only serve as a reminder of the miraculous oil that lasted for 8 days, but they also symbolize courage, strength, and hope.

People may also have a big dinner to celebrate the successful completion of the festival on the last night. Foods served are usually the traditional dishes associated with the festival, such as latkes, sufganiyot, and other delicious treats.

Please note that Hanukkah begins on the evening preceding day 1 and ends on the evening of day 8.

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