Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival celebrated in November or December each year. See when Hanukkah begins in 2017 and learn about Hanukkah history, customs, and a few traditional recipes.
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is an eight-day festival which begins each year on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Because the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle, the dates of Jewish holidays according to the Gregorian calendar change from year to year. For this reason, the beginning of Hanukkah can range from early November to late December.
In short, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a group of Jewish warriors defeated the occupying Greek armies. The festival celebrates the triumph of light over darkness and of spirituality over materiality. Read on to learn more about the history of Hanukkah.
When is Hanukkah?
Note: Hanukkah begins and ends at sundown on the dates listed below. See Sunrise and Sunset Times for your area.
In 2017, Chanukah begins at sunset on Tuesday, December 12. The first candle is lit on the Chanukiah (or menorah) on this date.
|Year||Hanukkah Begins||Hanukkah Ends|
|2017||Tuesday, December 12||Wednesday, December 20|
|2018||Sunday, December 2||Monday, December 10|
|2019||Sunday, December 22||Monday, December 30|
What is the history of Chanukah? This festival commemorates events that took place in Judea more than 2,000 years ago, when the Syrian king Antiochus ordered the Jews to abandon the Torah and publicly worship the Greek gods. This act provoked a rebellion led by Judas Maccabeus, climaxed by the retaking of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the Syrians. The army of Jews won, despite their small numbers.
In an eight-day celebration, the “Maccabees” (as the rebels came to be known) cleansed and rededicated the Temple (chanukah means “dedication”). According to the Talmud, there was only enough consecrated oil to re-light the candelabra for one day, yet, miraculously, it remained lit for eight days.
The central feature of the observance of Chanukah is the nightly lighting of the Chanukiah or menorah, an eight-branched candelabra with a place for a ninth candle, the shammes, used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night of Chanukah, and an additional candle is lit on each successive night, until, on the eighth night, the Chanukiah is fully illuminated. Hanukkah is also called the Feast of Lights or Festival of Lights due to the importance of the candle-lighting.
Potato latkes with sour cream and chives. Photo Credit: GreenArt/Shutterstock
Traditional Chanukah recipes include foods fried in oil, to commemorate the original miracle of the oil. Dairy products are also popular during Hanukkah. Some of the most popular foods include latkes (fried potato pancakes), applesauce, sufganiyot (deep-fried or jelly doughnuts), and rugelach pastries. See more Chanukah recipes!
Many Hanukkah meals are eaten communally to bring together friends and family, especially if they need to reconcile.
Colorful dreidels. Photo by Adiel lo/Wikimedia Commons.
Consumer gifts are not a custom; the menorah’s candles are meant to recall the miracle—and focus on this religious purpose. Traditionally, money was given to charity, with more given each day as the candles were lit. This originated with the need for even the poor to have money for the candles, so they could go door-to-door without any shame.
It is also customary on Chanukah to give money (called Hanukkah gelt) to children, and to play games with the dreidel—a four-sided spinning top. The Hebrew letters printed on the sides of a dreidel are an acronym that stands for the phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “a great miracle happened there”—a reference to the miracle of the oil.
Do you celebrate Hanukkah? If you do, please share your family’s traditions below!