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How is Hanukkah Celebrated?

By: Alexandra Vena, Editor, AllFreeHolidayCrafts
Updated August 16, 2022
How is Hanukkah Celebrated

Want to learn more about the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah? Look no further! Hanukkah, also spelled as Chanukah, is the Jewish "Festival of Lights," that takes place during the winter. Often taking place around Christmastime, Hanukkah has developed new cultural practices, while maintaining ancient ones, as well. Peruse this page for more information on the meaning of Hanukkah, Hanukkah traditions in America, and when exactly it takes place. Plus, check out AllFreeKidsCrafts.com for some Hanukkah-inspired crafts that are sure to light up your home. Light the menorah, chow down on some latkes, spin the dreidel, and read on to learn about Hanukkah!

The Meaning of Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah dates back to the second century B.C. The word "Hanukkah" in Hebrew means "dedication," specifically in reference to the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, according to History.com. In Judea, also known as the Land of Israel, Antiochus III came to power. His son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who eventually came to power, outlawed the Jewish religion and forced the Jewish people to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., he and his army destroyed the Second Temple and killed thousands of people. The Jewish people decided to rebel under the initial lead of Mattathias, and then upon his death, Judah Maccabee, one of Mattathias' five sons. The Jewish army returned to the Second Temple to cleanse it and lit the menorah's candles.
Here comes the "miracle of Hanukkah." What was believed to be enough oil to light the menorah for one night lasted for eight nights! This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, and why there are eight candles on the menorah, with an additional candle in the middle called the Shamash, or the "helper candle," which is lit first every night to begin lighting the other candles. The menorah is lit from right to left, in the same direction that Hebrew is read.

Paperclay Menorah Craft

Hanukkah Traditions in America

There are many Hanukkah traditions practiced by Jews in America. The significance of the oil mentioned in the history of the holiday has made way for the food that is eaten during Hanukkah. Foods fried in oil, such as Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah. The menorah is lit every night of Hanukkah, and there are prayers sung over the candles. There are three Hanukkah prayers, all of which are sung on the first night, and only two of them sung on the following seven nights.

The game of Dreidel is another popular Hanukkah tradition. This game is a type of gambling game, where instead of chips, players bet gelt ("money" in Yiddish). Today, instead of real money, players use chocolate coins that are referred to as gelt. To play the game, the players spin the dreidel, which is a four-sided top, each side with a different Hebrew letter on it: nun (נ) means that the player does nothing, gimel (ג) means that the player receives the entire pool of gelt, hay (ה) means that the player takes half of the pool of the gelt, shin (ש) means that the player places one piece of gelt into the pool. Together the Hebrew letters stand for "nes gadol haya sham," which in English means "a great miracle happened there."

Due to Hanukkah often taking place around Christmas, gift exchanges have become more common in the celebration of the Jewish holiday. Oftentimes, children receive one present each night of Hanukkah, for a total of eight presents. People have adopted the practice of decorating "Hanukkah bushes" instead of Christmas trees, and the festive and fictional figure of Hanukkah Harry created on Saturday Night Live in 1989 to serve as a Santa Claus figure for Jewish children has been absorbed by American Jewish culture.

Crochet Dreidel Softie

When is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah always starts on the 25th day of Kislev, which is a month in the Hebrew calendar. The Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, which mean that it is based on both the Sun and the Moon. This is why Hanukkah does not have the same start date every year in the Gregorian calendar, which we abide by in America.
IN 2022, Hanukkah begins on Sunday, December 18, and ends on Monday, December 26. However, in previous years Hanukkah has been as early as Thanksgiving!

8 Nights DIY Hanukkah Decoration
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