Hanukkah - Holidays Around the World

During Hanukkah, a candle is lit on each of the eight nights.
During Hanukkah, a candle is lit on each of the eight nights.

Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday which commemorates the rededication process of the Second Temple (Holy Temple) after the Maccabean-revolt era that lasted from 167 to 160 BCE in Jerusalem. Hanukkah lasts for 8 nights and days, and it starts from the 25th day of the Kislev as per the calendar of the Hebrew which is anytime between late-November and late-December.


The term ‘’Hanukkah’’ is a Hebrew verb which means "to dedicate". On this day in history, the Jews regained Jerusalem from the Seleucid dynasty and rededicated the holy temple. Numerous homiletical explanations trying to explain the history of the holiday and why it begins on the 25th exists, and one of them is that Hanukkah started on 25th when the war ended. Hanukkah is a Hebrew acronym for eight candles and Halakha is the house-of-Hillel. There are two schools of thoughts who disagreed on when and how many candles should be lighted. The house of Shammai and the house of Hillel differed on the days when the Jews should light the candles. House of Hillel believes that the Jews should use eight candles, seven on the second and so forth.

Historical Sources

The Hanukkah story is preserved in numerous books including the 1st and 2nd Maccabees which describe the rededication of the Second Temple in detail, plus the lighting of Menorah. Although these books are not in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) from the Palestinian canon, they are part of the Septuagint from the Alexandrian canon. These books are in the Old Testaments used in the Orthodox and Catholic churches, in fact, they consider them deuterocanonical.

Numerous Hanukkah references are made in Mishna including Bava-Kama 6:6, Megillah 3:4 and 6, and Taanit 2:10 among others. The miracle of a one-day oil supply which last eight days was first described in the Talmud. The Talmud on page 21b Shabbat focuses on the Shabbat candles before moving to the Hanukkah candles, and it explains that after the soldiers left they discovered only one sealed container of olive oil which was clean and it was enough to light the Menorah for a whole day, but it lasted for eight days. Plus the Jewish Antiquities-XII book by Titus Josephus described how Maccabeus ordered that the Jews hold the 8-day festival every year.

Background Story

Judea was under the Ptolemaic dynasty from Egypt until 200 BCE when they were defeated in the Panium battle. Judea was taken over by the Seleucid kingdom and to conciliate the Jews, Antiochus III promised to allow the Jews to practice their religions and customs while in Jerusalem. However, things changed when Antiochus IV invaded Judea in 175 BCE. Antiochus soldiers looted the Second Temple, and then outlawed Judaism in Jerusalem. Antiochus banned circumcision and erected the statue of Zeus in the temple which provoked the revolt. The Jews won the battle of 165 BCE, and the temple was re-dedicated plus the festival was instituted to celebrate the event.

Rituals and Customs

The Hanukkah festival is celebrated with numerous family and communal rituals which are done every day throughout the eight days holiday. Hanukkah is not as strict as the Sabbath-like holidays. Therefore the schools are only closed in Israel from the 2nd day to the 8th day, and family members and friends exchange gifts for the eight nights.

Every night the Hanukkah lights are lit and as it is universally practiced the number of Hanukkah candles increase by one every night. Among the Sephardim, every family member lights one candle every day while among the Ashkenazim every male family member, and in some families, females as well, light a set of candles. The candles usually burn for about an hour after the dark to remind the people passing-by that they are celebrating Hanukkah. Before the candles are lit, the Jews recite three blessings daily, and then the Maoz Tzur is sung in many Jewish homesteads after the lighting of the Hanukkah candles.


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