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Kislev 25-Tevet 2 or 3* November/December

Often called the Festival of Lights, “Hanukkah” is commonly translated as “dedication,” referring to the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the 4th century BCE, Alexander the Great conquered the land of Israel.

In 167 BCE, King Antiochus Epiphanes outlawed Jewish rituals and commanded the worship of Greek gods, the installation of idols, and the sacrifice of pigs in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews resisted and died as martyrs. Led by Judah the Maccabee, the Jews fought a series of wars against the Greeks before finally liberating Jerusalem and reclaiming the Temple, a story documented in the books of the Maccabees and in the works of historian Josephus. Rabbis later decreed an eight-day holiday to commemorate this victory over persecution.

According to legend, when Judah the Maccabee’s army re-entered the Temple, they could find only one small bottle of olive oil to kindle the menorah (seven-branched candelabra) for one day. But in a miracle, the oil lasted eight days! Based on this legend, Jews light candles in a hanukkiah, a nine-branched candelabra with one branch for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, plus one for a helper candle (shamash) used to light the other candles. 

Although Hanukkah is a relatively minor religious holiday, it has been given more importance in modern times, with gift-giving and folk songs, to offer children a similar experience around Christmastime. Chocolate coins covered in foil (gelt) are commonly given to children, though originally real coins were given to children, teachers, and charities.

Traditional foods include those fried in oil, such as potato pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts (sufganiyot). Celebrations also involve playing games with a dreidel (four-sided top). 

* Depending on the leap-year schedule.

The four Hebrew letters on the dreidel (Nun, Gimmel, Hey, Shin) are the first letters of the Hebrew translation “A Great Miracle Happened There.” In Israel, dreidels have a different fourth letter which stands for “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”

Press play to hear the pronunciation: