What is Hanukkah, when is it celebrated and what do people do?

·3-min read
A boy lights a menorah during Hanukkah (Rabbi Elchonon Feldman/PA)
A boy lights a menorah during Hanukkah (Rabbi Elchonon Feldman/PA)

Hanukkah is the Jewish festival of lights which brings joy to communities both near and far.

The celebration involves prayer, food and the lighting of an eight-armed candelabra called a menorah. There are games and gatherings of family and friends and the wider community is also invited to join in.

Here are some details of why it is celebrated and what takes place:

A Menorahcredit Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue
A Menorahcredit Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue

– When is it celebrated?Hanukkah, which might also be called Chanukah, runs for eight days and is one of the most popular Jewish religious customs.

Hanukkah always falls between late November and very early in January but the date changes each year.

This year the festival runs from November 28 to December 6.

Hanukkah reaffirms the ideals of Judaism and commemorates, in particular, the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the lighting of candles on each day of the festival.

– Who celebrates it and why?

It is celebrated to commemorate a miraculous occasion more than 2,000 years ago when the Jews won the right to practise their religion freely. The Holy Land was then run by the Syrian Greeks who issued decrees against all Jewish rituals.

There was a successful uprising and the Jewish community regained its independence. It meant they were once again were able to gain control of the temple.

An oil lamp was lit in the temple. The candle should have burned for one day as there was only enough oil to last that long but it miraculously burned for eight days.

This is one of the reasons why Hanukkah lasts for eight days and that light is a key part of the festival.

It is a Jewish principle that a little bit of light can drive out much darkness.

The lighting of the menorah lamp is a connection to the temple in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Elchonon Feldman, of the Bushey United Synagogue in Hertfordshire describes it as “arguably the most celebrated of all Jewish festivals”. It is well-loved by the Jewish community and proudly celebrated, he added.

Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue during Hanukkah celebrations.credit Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue
Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue during Hanukkah celebrations.credit Rabbi Elchonon Feldman of the Bushey United Synagogue

– What happens during the festival?

It is a time when people give gifts to family members.

Chocolate coins are given out to each other as a way of trying to increase the happiness.

There are lots of yummy foods on the menu at this important time including special fried dishes which are used to commemorate the oil miracle.

These include doughnuts and latkes, which is a traditional dish of fried, grated potatoes.

There is also a special game that adults and children play together involving a spinning top called a driedel, which is a cube-shaped dice with a letter on each of the four sides.

It is seen as a way to celebrate a rich history and have fun with friends and family.

There are also lots of public candle lighting ceremonies across the world – both in town centres and in people’s homes.

At this time, there is also a particular focus on the festival being celebrated among people in groups rather than as individuals. The wider community is often invited to take part.

Rabbi Feldman said: “What is nice about the festival is that it is religious but it is also universal.”

He added that it is “all about the joyous things that you can do” and “it is just about embracing and joining in, which is what helps make it so pleasurable to enjoy together.”

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