anukkah, otherwise known as Chanukah, is an eight-day festival of lights and a hugely joyous occasion for Jewish people worldwide.
The date of the special occasion changes each year based on the lunar calendar. Falling anywhere between late November and December each year, it begins four days before the new moon and is a time to enjoy food and time with the family.
For some, Hanukkah might be a holiday they want to learn more about. So, here is a comprehensive look at the Jewish holiday’s history and the traditions around it.
When is Hanukkah 2022?
Because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar, the date of Hannukah changes each year. It always falls between late November and December, four days before the new moon.
This year, Hannukah will begin on Sunday, December 18, and runs through to Monday, December 26.
What is Hanukkah about?
Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean Revolt of 167-160 BCE, in which a Jewish army rebelled against the ruling Hellenistic Seleucid Empire and won.
The Seleucids – who were culturally Greek – had outlawed Judaism and its practices, with King Antiochus attempting to make Jews pray and make sacrifices to Greek gods.
This prompted a small band of Jews to rebel against Antiochus in an effort to restore Judaism and remove the Seleucids from Judea. After three years of war, this small army – known as the Maccabees – won, but their temple had been destroyed.
The Maccabees then proceeded to rebuild and cleanse the temple, and light flames to celebrate their victory. They only had enough kosher oil to burn for one day, but the flame miraculously stayed lit for eight days, giving them enough time to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah.
Dr Maria Diemling, reader in Jewish-Christian relations, told the Standard: “The historical context is the struggle between tradition and assimilation, a recurrent theme in Jewish history.
“According to Jewish tradition, it celebrates a miracle: inside the temple, the Maccabees found enough consecrated oil to light the eternal flame in the temple for a single day but, miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to produce new oil.
“This is the reason why Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days.”
How is Hanukkah observed?
Hanukkah involves lighting candles on a special nine-branched candleholder known as the Hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah.
The ninth candle is the ‘servant’ used to light the other eight candles.
The lit Hanukkiah will be placed near a window to ‘announce the miracle’ of the festival to the outside world, and a candle is lit every day in order (one on the first day, two on the second, and so on).
Families will get together and sing traditional songs, give gifts to children, eat and spin the dreidel.
A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with different Hebrew letters on each side, which usually form the first letters of the Hebrew sentence “a great miracle happened there”, referring to the miracle of the cruse of oil.
Adults and children will gather around and play for money or sweets, putting one of these in the middle before having a go at spinning the dreidel. Winners are determined by the letter that appears when the dreidel has stopped spinning.
What food is traditionally eaten during Hanukkah?
Food at Hanukkah is often fried in oil, which refers to the oil of the miracle. Common foods include latkes with apple sauce and sour cream, doughnuts filled with jam, fried chicken, mashed-potato pancakes, olive oil-fried aubergines, and honey-soaked dough fritters.
Children were traditionally gifted money (‘gelt’ in Yiddish) although now chocolate coins are traditionally given.
It’s becoming more common for people to give presents to each other over the eight days, while many families give to charity over the festival.