Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah) – which marks the 2nd century BCE Maccabees’ victory over King Antiochus, who had forbidden the Jewish people from practising their religion – is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev (the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar). Like the Christian festival of Easter, Hanukkah begins on a different date each year, around the end of November to mid-December.
The traditional symbol of Hanukkah is the menorah – a candelabra with nine candles. One candle is lit for each night of the eight-night celebration. There is an ‘attendant’ candle in the centre called the shamash, which is used to light the other eight candles. As each candle is added and lit, people say prayers and special blessings. On the final night of the festival, all the candles are lit together.
Hanukkah is a time for families to get together, to give presents, sing Hanukkah songs, play a game called dreidel and eat latkes, which are delicious potato pancakes eaten with applesauce and sour cream.
The story of Hanukkah is told in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which describe the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and the lighting of the menorah. According to the Talmud sacred text, even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued to burn for eight nights.
During Hanukkah you will often see the menorah displayed in the window of Jewish families to celebrate this miracle.
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