25th day of Kislev - “Festival of Lights”
Hanukkah falls on the 25th day in the Hebrew month of Kislev, usually in December (at the darkest phase of the moon in the darkest season of the year). Hanukkah is also known as the “Festival of Lights”.
Hanukkah’s story begins during the second century B.C.E. Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, ruler of the land of Israel, began the process of Hellenization that included persecution of those who continued to practice Judaism. Antiochus ordered the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem and the killing of those who opposed him. The Jewish rebellion against this oppression was led by Mattathias and his five sons, the Maccabees, who defeated the Syrian forces and rededicated the Temple in 164 B.C.E., with an
According to the story, the Maccabees found only a single jar of consecrated oil, which was used to keep the Eternal Flame alight in the Temple. There was only enough oil to last for one day, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days.
Customs and Observances
Dreidels (Four-sided tops) are played with by children. Each side is inscribed with a Hebrew letter. The four letters allude to the miracle of Hanukkah. They spell out: Nes (N-miracle), Gadol (G-great), Haya (H-happened), and Sham (S-there, meaning in Israel). “A great miracle happened there.”
Latkes (Potato pancakes) are a traditional treat served on Hanukkah, as they are cooked in oil; another remembrance of the miracle of the oil lasting eight days.
Gifts are exchanged; especially between members of the family.
This commonly occurs throughout the eight nights of Hanukkah.
However, in many homes, a tradition exists of reserving one night, typically the last night of Hanukkah, for tzedakah. This may mean giving gifts or money to a charity or organization of their choice, or participating hands-on in helping others in need.
The Hanukkah menorah – called a hanukkiyah – should be lit at sunset and placed near a window, so that people passing by can see the lights. Hanukkah candles may not be used for anything but enjoyment, so a shamash, a helper candle, is used to light the others. Starting on the right side, one candle is added each night. The last candle added is the first lit, and the lighting continues from left to right for eight days.