Hanukkah (Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה), also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays. A festive eight-day celebration that for many people falls during the darkest, coldest season of the year. The holiday brings light, joy, and warmth to our homes and communities as we celebrate with candles, food, family, and friends. Light comes literally, with the lighting of an additional candle each day, and metaphorically, through a newer emphasis on charitable donations and a commitment to the work of repairing the world (tikkun olam) during the holiday.
Hanukkah (alternately spelled Chanukah), meaning “dedication” in Hebrew, commemorates the victory of a small group of Jewish rebels (led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, collectively known as “the Maccabees”) over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the subsequent liberation and “re dedication” of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Modern celebrations of Hanukkah focus on family and friends and include the lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, commonly called a menorah. One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles. This unique candle is called the shammash. Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shammash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the festival.
Other Hanukkah festivities include singing and playing special songs and games (dreidel); and eating foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), bimuelos (fried dough puffs) and keftes de prasas (leek patties).