About Hanukkah 

Below is a description of the historical story of the holiday and of a typical Hanukkah family celebration today.  Compare both and see if you can figure out where our holiday traditions come from!

The Story of Hanukkah How Hanukkah is Celebrated Today

Over 2,000 years ago the Jewish people fought against an enemy who would not allow them to practice their religious traditions.  Their enemy destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem which contained many holy objects including a sacred lamp called the menorah.  One small band of people, called the Maccabees, was led by a brave man named Judah.  He led them in a fight against their enemies.  Even though they were outnumbered the Jewish people were brave and won the battle!  When Judah returned to the Temple in Jerusalem the first thing he did was restore the sacred lamp.  But there was almost no oil left -- only enough for one day.  The lamp was filled with this oil and lit.  Instead of lasting only one day, it burned brighter, and brighter, lasting eight days  -- a miracle!

Hanukkah (also Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights.  The word Hanukkah means rededication.  Every year the celebration honors the hard-fought victory of those trying to keep their faith despite a powerful enemy.   It is an eight-day holiday that will be celebrated this year starting at sundown on December 7th, 2004.  The first night usually includes a big family dinner with foods such as potato latkes, beef brisket, and jelly doughnuts.  After dinner the family gathers to light the menorah candles -- a new one each night until all 8 are lit.  Blessings and songs are part of the ceremony.  Children then get to open gifts from family and friends.  They play games with toys such as the traditional dreidel and chocolate coins, called gelt.


The lamp was only suppose to stay lit for one night.  The 8 days that the oil lamp burned was the "miracle" of long ago. The menorah is a nine-stemmed candle.  One candle, called the shamus, is raised higher than the others.  It is used to light the remaining candles.  One candle is lit the first night, 2 the second, 3 the third, etc., until all are lit on the eight night.


The precious olive oil for the lamps was almost completely destroyed.  It was a miracle that one flask was found that should have provided one day's light.


Wonderful foods are an integral part of the Jewish holidays.  Potato latkes, and jelly donuts, both fried in oil, are popular Hanukkah dishes.
While under the rule of their enemy the Jewish children were not allowed to study the Torah.  They continued their studies anyway and when the soldiers saw them, they pretended to be playing a children's game with the dreidel. 

A dreidel is a top with four square sides that is spun in a children's game.  On each side of the dreidel is a character.  The characters are read as "a great miracle happened there" if played in America and "a great miracle happened here" if played in Israel.  Often the game is played with chocolate Hanukkah gelt -- gold coins.  Make a dreidel and play the game.


The Maccabees were determined to retain their beliefs and culture.  After their victory they returned to the Temple of Jerusalem and rededicated it.


The word Hanukkah means rededication.  The holiday symbolizes a yearly rededication to the Jewish faith and its traditions. 

For more detailed information on the history and traditions of Hanukkah check out the following sites:




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