When is Hanukkah and what does it celebrate?

December 7, 2017 6:42 pm
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As the celebration of Hanukkah begins here are some fun facts about the holiday and its history. USA TODAY

When is Hanukkah this year?

The eight-day Jewish celebration begins on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 12, and ends on the evening of Wednesday, Dec. 20. Jewish holidays begin at sundown.

What does Hanukkah celebrate?

Hanukkah (also spelled Chanukah, as well as several other variations) commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, according to the History Channel, when Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian rulers in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December.

Unlike many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is not mentioned in the Bible, according to the religion’s Reform movement. The events upon which the celebration is based are recorded in Maccabees I and II, two books contained within a later collection of writings known as the Apocrypha.

The books tell the story, according Chabad, a Jewish-Hasid movement, of how a small band of Jews led by Judah the Maccabee defeated a much larger force and reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem. When they went to light the temple’s menorah – a traditional seven-branched candelabrum – they found only a day’s supply of uncontaminated ritual olive oil. The one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days, thus the eight-day celebration.

What happens during Hanukkah?

The Hanukkah celebration revolves around the lighting each evening of candles on a nine-branched menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown; the ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), usually situated in the center, is used to light the others. Families typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah prominently in a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.

Are there any particular foods eaten?

Of course – it’s a Jewish celebration! In a nod to the story of the Temple oil, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried and, according to the Reform movement, potato pancakes known as latkes and jam-filled doughnuts (sufganiyot) are particularly popular. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with four-sided spinning tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts.

Has Hanukkah always been such a big deal?

No. It is only in recent decades, the History Channel reports, that Hanukkah has exploded into a major commercial phenomenon, largely because it falls near or overlaps with Christmas. From a religious perspective, however, it remains a relatively minor holiday that places no restrictions on working, attending school or other activities.

More: 10 things that will make your Hanukkah more lit than a menorah

More: What is Hanukkah? These clever kids explain

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