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Hanukkah facts

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

Challenge your Hanukkah  knowledge with some well known and little know facts

Challenge your Hanukkah knowledge with some well known and little know facts

It’s almost time for Hanukkah!  If you’re new to the holiday, or you’re looking for some facts to share with friends or students, here are some Hanukkah facts to get you in the holiday mood.

-Unlike most spelling words you remember from school, Hanukkah can be correctly spelled many different ways, including Chanukah, Chanukkah, and Hanukah.


-It is probably the Jewish holiday with which non-Jews are most familiar, due to its proximity to Christmas.


-Despite years of teachers including Hanukkah in their “Christmas Around the World” lessons, Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas” – it historically predates Christmas and had a very different origin.


-The story of Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Torah. The events that led up to the holiday happened after the Torah period in 164 B.C.E.


– Hanukkah starts on the 25th of the month of Kislev.  But because the Hebrew calendar is lunar rather than solar, it can fall anywhere from November to early January on the standard calendar.


– In 2008, Hanukkah will begin at sundown on December 21st.  In 2009, it will start at sundown on December 11th. For non-Jews this is one of the most confusing Hanukkah facts, because they never know when the holiday will fall.


– For most of its history, Hanukkah has been a minor holiday, but in the late 1800’s it gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays in the calendar.


– Gift?giving is not traditionally associated with Hanukkah. At most a small amount of money or a sweet would be given to children.  As Hanukkah became more popular in the U.S. and Canada, the idea of 8 nights of gifts grew in acceptance.


– The 9-branched candelabra that holds the Hanukkah candles is called a Hanukkiah.  Many people, including some Jews, refer to it as a menorah.  But a menorah actually has 7 branches and is associated with the Temple.



– There is a special “helper candle” called the Shamash that is used to light the rest of the candles each night.  This candle is lit first.


– On the first night, the Shamash plus one other candle are lit.  On the second night, the Shamash plus two candles are lit. And so on through the 8 nights.


– It takes 44 candles all together to observe all the nights of Chanukkah.


– Once they are lit, the candles may not be used for any other purpose, such as lighting other candles or reading.  And they must burn for at least a half an hour.


– It is traditional to place the Hanukkiah in a window to share the miracle and the celebration with passers by.


– Fried foods are associated with the holiday, since it was oil that kept the sacred fire burning.  Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot, sweet jelly- filled doughnuts are two popular choices.


– It’s traditional to play with dreidels on Hanukkah. These four sided tops feature the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin. The letters stand for the Hebrew phrase Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, “A great miracle happened there.” Players “gamble” with small candies or nuts, each adding or taking away from pile according to the letter that shows after each dreidel spin.


– Some people claim that the dreidel game originated when Jewish children were not allowed to study Torah.  If an official came along, they would quickly pull out these toys and appear to just be playing a game.


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