Hanukkah or Chanukah is an annual festival of the Jewish people, celebrated on eight successive days. Hanukkah means dedication.
Chanukah is generally spelled Hanukkah, but I've been told the most correct way is with a "Ch" and only one "k". That is because it is the closet English spelling to the Hebrew. But, I just love to spell it: Hanukkah!
It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Juda Maccabee in 165 bc. Rededication was necessary because Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria and overlord of Palestine, had damaged the temple.
In 168 b.c., on a date corresponding approximately to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to worship of the pagan god Zeus by order of Antiochus, who wouldn't allow the Jews to practice Judaism.
An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. When Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem three years later, he had the temple destroyed and a new altar put up in place. The temple was then rededicated to God with festivities that lasted eight days.
First US Chanukah Stamp ever made
According to tradition, only a one-day supply of oil could be found for the rededication, but that small quantity burned miraculously for eight days.
Jews commemorate this event by lighting candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah.
Today families celebrate Hanukkah by the lighting of candles. One the first night, two the second, and so on until eight candles have been lit in a special candelabrum called a menorah.
A Hanukkah menorah has eight branches and a holder, called a shamos or servant candle. This candle is an extra candle that is used to light the others. A blessing is said each night as the Hanukkah candles are lit.
Hanukkah is a festive family occasion, with special foods and songs. Children receive a gift a night, making the total eight gifts. Children also receive money, known as Hanukkah gelt.
Potato pancakes, or latkes are eaten. Here's a receipe.
When playing the dreidal game, winners may receive chocolate coins that look like gelt. Songs also play a part in the festivities and remind the family of the events of long ago.