Skip to content
Homepage » Tradition and culture » Hanukkah


The Joy of Hanukkah

I irrevocably associate Jewish holidays with strict fasting and a very restrictive prayer schedule. This is of course true when we are talking about Yom Kippur, for example. Hanukkah, on the other hand, is one of the most festive Jewish holidays, filled with joy, gratitude, and light ...

A few words about the history of Hanukkah

The name "Hanukkah" derives from the Hebrew verb "חנך", meaning "to dedicate", so it is the Feast of Dedication or, according to Josephus, the Festival of Lights. Its history goes back to the time when the rulers of Judea tried to force the Jews to turn away from their faith and adopt Greek customs. On the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev (according to the Jewish calendar), Antiochus IV Epiphanes ordered the Jerusalem Temple to be desecrated and a place of Zeus worship established in it. Three years after this event, in 164 B.C.E. (referred to as 164 BCE in Jewish writings), Judas Maccabeus (the son of the leader of the Maccabees uprising) performed a ritual cleansing of the Temple. At that time, only one jug of oil was found, from which the high priest's seal had not been broken - so it was not profaned. Unfortunately, this amount of oil could only be enough for one day of keeping the fire in the lamp. However, a miracle happened and the oil was not enough for one, but eight days of continuous light. Since then, a special candlestick has been lit every year for the eight days of the festival. It is a gesture of commemoration and gratitude for a miracle.

Rites and traditions

Hanukkah is celebrated in late November and early December. It is then that Jews light candles in a special eight-branched candlestick - the hanukkiah (more commonly known as a menorah) (photo 1).

Photo 1. Menorah (Source:

There are a number of fascinating rules and traditions associated with this. I will mention a few of them. We start lighting the candles from the left side of the candlestick and use the auxiliary light (shames - a separate candle). It is important that in the room with the menorah another light should be lit, for example, a lamp, because a Hanukkah candlestick cannot be used to illuminate the room, it is symbolic, sacred light (photo 2).

Photo 2. Hanukkah house lighting in Israel. (Source: the private archive of Jakub Klepek)

As already mentioned, Hanukkah is a celebration of joy, filled with gratitude and laughter. Public mourning and fasting are forbidden for eight days - Hanukkah is not the time for grief. The tables during this festival are filled with latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts). After meals and happy Hanukkah songs, it's time for fun and games - there is no more classic Hanukkah game than dreidel. Hanukkah can be associated with gifts, or rather money - quite rightly so! Among Ashkenazi Jews, on the fifth evening of Hanukkah, after lighting a candle and singing a song, Jewish children were given so-called Hanukkah money. They were usually small coins, but as a result of the cultural influences of the West and the Christian religions, the money turned into small gifts, similar to Christmas gifts (photo 3).

Photo 3. Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel. (Source: the private archive of Jakub Klepek)

Hanukah in the Hasidic community

Hanukkah, like every holiday, rite, and custom, is not the same throughout the Jewish community. According to Hasidic teachings, Hanukkah is an extremely important holiday not only for Jews but for all mankind. For they believe that the Jews cannot bring the Messiah to Earth by themselves. This is only possible when his teachings and miracles are passed on to all nations.

Also, the menorah in Hasidic teachings has a much more complicated meaning. Historically, the wicks of the candles were directed towards the center of the candlestick, with the six candles on either side representing medicine, physics, mathematics, art, psychology, and sociology. The central candle symbolizes God Himself, to whom particular fields of knowledge are directed, in order to learn His teachings with their help.

It should also be noted that, according to the Hasidim, Hanukkah does not last eight days - it is seven days of spiritual preparation, and Hanukkah is the eighth day.

A word at the end

Jewish holidays are an extremely fascinating and complex topic, therefore some shortcuts and simplifications were necessary. It is impossible to fully present the role that Hanukkah plays in Jewish culture and spirituality. It is not only a celebration commemorating a miracle, it is also a time of gratitude for the freedom of religion that has been violated and taken away.

Julita Semrau

Translated by Anna Keren‎‎


Żebrowski R., Chanukowe pieniądze, [online], [access: 18.02.2022]
Bendowska M., Hanukkah, [online], [access: 18.02.2022]
Hanukkah, [online], [access: 18.02.2022]
Żydowskie święto Chanukah bez tajemnic, [online], [access: 18.02.2022]

Share our post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *