6 Interesting things about Hanukkah's history

Nov 26, 2013 at 8:00 a.m. ET

Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, will begin this year at sunset on Nov. 27 and end at nightfall on Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013. This eight-day Jewish celebration has become increasingly popular over the years. Check out these interesting facts about Hanukkah's history and tradition.

 6 Interesting things about Hannukah's history


Celebration of Hanukkah

Hanukkah is known as the Jewish festival of rededication, as it honors the rededication of Beit Hamikdash, the holy temple in Jerusalem. A series of rituals are performed throughout the eight days to celebrate the holiday, which includes kindling the Hanukkah lights, one for every day of the celebration. After the Jews gained control of their land and temple back from the Seleucid Empire of Syria, they only had enough oil to light their seven-branched menorah for one day, however, it lasted eight days. This holiday celebrates the miracle of the oil.

Fun fact: Other names for Hanukkah are Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication and the Festival of Lights.

Lighting the Hanukkah menorah

The lighting of the menorah is the main Hanukkah tradition. Menorahs were the lamps used in the ancient holy temple in Jerusalem. The original menorahs only had seven candleholders. A Hanukkah menorah has nine. Lighting the menorah is the center of the Hanukkah celebration. A candle is added and lit on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, and an extra one is there to light the others. Candles are added to the menorah from right to left, but are lit from left to right.

Fun fact: The world's largest Hanukkah menorah is in New York and is a 32-foot-high, gold-colored and 4,000-pound steel holiday icon.

Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas

Although it falls in close proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas holiday. Hanukkah does not have a great religious significance in comparison to other Jewish holidays. It is considered a minor Jewish holiday that celebrates the miracle of oil, but is most likely well known because it occurs around Christmastime. Giving gifts was not a traditional part of Hanukkah, but the holiday is becoming more festive and includes exchanging gifts.

Fun fact: The gift of gelt (gold coins) is a Hanukkah tradition, and children would give gelt to teachers and charities in the past. Today, gelt is given as a gift during Hanukkah in the form of a coin-shaped piece of chocolate.

Hanukkah songs

Hanerot Hallalu is an ancient song that is recited or sung while lighting the candles. Maoz Tzur is a popular song that is sung after reciting the Hanukkah blessings and lighting the candles.

Fun fact: Maoz Tzur is also known as "Rock of Ages" and was written hundreds of years ago.

Traditional Hanukkah foods

Fried food is a favorite Hanukkah tradition to recognize the miracle of oil. Fried potato pancakes, known as latkes, are a popular Hanukkah dish, as well as loukoumades, which are deep-fried pastry puffs dipped in either honey or sugar. Sufganiyot is a round jelly doughnut eaten in Israel during Hanukkah.

Fun fact: In Israel, bakeries begin selling sufganiyots for the Hanukkah festival a month in advance. Around 17.5 million are eaten in Israel during Hanukkah.


"Spin the dreidel" is a popular Hanukkah tradition. A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with a Hebrew letter on each side. It is said that students studying Torah used the dreidel to fool soldiers into thinking they were gambling to avoid persecution. Today, dreidel is usually played to win gelt candy.

Fun fact: The four letters on the dreidel stand for "A Great Miracle Happened There."

More on Hanukkah traditions

Hanukkah facts for children
The spirit of Hanukkah
Unique Hanukkah family traditions