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Jewish Holiday Hanukkah.Hanukkah History, Chanukah Songs.

Updated on April 20, 2018

"It's so much fun-akkah to celebrate hanukkah!"

Just like this! In one sentence he said it all.

"Hanukkah is the festival of lights,

Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights."

Yes, Adam Sandler knows what he is singing about!

Jewish holiday Hanukkah is probably the most known Hebrew holiday in non-Jewish circles.

Hebrew name for the holiday is חנוכה

The name of this Jewish holiday in English is spelled in many ways. The most common is "Hanukkah", but you might also see it spelled "Chanukah". Other ways are:

Chanuka; Chanukkah; Hanukah; Hannukah; Hanuka; Hanukka; Hanaka; Hanika; Khanukkah, etc...

Jewish calendar has many holidays, most of them have religious significance. Many Hebrew holidays have dual significance, religious and agricultural, or religious and historical.

Hanukkah is no exception. Jewish holiday Hanukkah is not a very important religious holiday. Hanukkah is not mentioned in Jewish scriptures. The story of Hanukkah comes from the book of Maccabees and this book is not accepted by Jews as scripture. Hanukkah is celebrated to remember the rededication of the Temple and to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Unlike an opinion that Hanukkah also celebrates military victory, I am afraid to disappoint you, it is not. Jews do not celebrate war victories, as Jews do not glorify wars.

Then, what makes Hanukkah stand apart from other Jewish holidays in the popularity?

What makes Hanukkah stand apart from other Jewish holidays in the popularity among non-Jewish circles?

It is not the religious or historical significance of Hanukkah, but most likely it happened because of Hanukkah’s adjacency to Christmas. You will be surprised how many people (including assimilated Jews) consider Hanukkah as Jewish Christmas in the same way as Hebrew holiday Passover is sometimes mistakenly thought of as Jewish Easter (also because of proximity of those two holidays).

In the case with Hanukkah it is especially ironic if not sad that this Hebrew holiday became the most assimilated holiday of the Jewish calendar. What irony is here? Hanukkah originates from a story about a war of Jewish people against assimilation and suppression of Jewish identity.

I do not want to sound bitter by saying it, because I embrace and respect different cultural traditions. I celebrate Christian holidays with the Christian part of my family, because I love and respect my in-laws. When my son was little I was putting up for him a small Christmas tree so that he wouldn’t feel excluded from his friends.

We embrace other traditions, but we never worship other Gods except The One, we do not make idols and do not worship idols.

The same as Jewish people used to live when their land was under the reign of the Alexander III of Macedon (also known as Alexander the Great)

The story of Hanukkah begins much earlier than the widely accepted opinion.

The story of Hanukkah happened approximately in 160s BC, but all started centuries earlier, in the reign of Alexander the Great.

Alexander conquered the whole region, but his rule was relatively benign and beneficent, because he did not suppress the religions of the lands under his control and even allowed them certain degree of autonomy.

During that period many people, including Jews accepted a lot of Hellenistic (classic Greek) culture, adopting some of the language, the customs and clothes of the Greeks.

If we dare to compare this phenomenon to contemporary times, it would resemble the way how many American Jews live in the secular American society.

Judah Maccabee

Everything changed when Antiochus IV came into control.

More than a century later, a successor of Alexander the Great, a Syrian-Greek King Antiochus IV gained the control of the region. He announced that Jews had to worship Greek Gods the same way as he was doing. He prohibited Jews to study TORA, to follow their traditions. He began oppressing and massacring the Jews. Antiochus and his warriors entered Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple by placing pigs in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. He placed statues of Hellenistic gods in the Temple.

Not far from Jerusalem there was (and there is now) a settlement called Modi’in. There lived a Jewish priest Mattitiahu (Mattathias from the dynasty of Hasmonean). He and his five sons gathered in the hills a small army of Jews who were ready to fight for their faith and their right to live on their land. One of Mattitiahu’s sons, Judah, led the group.

This small army of fearless Jews (simple people, not warriors) was opposed to the strong, well equipped and well trained huge army of Greeks. Jews did not have horses, elephants or weapons like the Greek army had, but they knew their land very well and they knew where to hide and from where to strike. At nights Judah and his friends would sneak into Greek’s settlements and set them on fire. Jews would hide between the cliffs and strike blows on the Greek warriors from above on the narrow paths.

Judah would strike Greeks so strong blows that he got a nickname “Makkabi” or "Maccabee" (hammer). "Maccabee" is also an acronym for a battle cry of the Jews, "mi kamocha ba'aylim Adoshem", which means "who is like you among the powers O God"

For many many years a small army of Jews was fighting with a strong army of Greeks and Syrians. Jews who were fighting for their land and for their right to preserve their faith won! According to the story the fighting continued for 25 years and Greeks who had enough of this, finally signed a peace treaty with the last survivor of the five sons of Mattathias, Simon.

However, on the third year of the rebellion, the Jews gained the control over Jerusalem and rededicated the Temple.

The name "Hanukkah" derives from the Hebrew verb "חנך", meaning "to dedicate".

Since the name "Hanukkah" derives from the Hebrew verb "חנך", which means "to dedicate", the meaning of the holiday is to remember the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by the Greeks. Another version says that the word comes from the verb "hanu", which means "they rested" and from the Hebrew letters "chaf" and "hey" that represent the number 25. That's why Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th of the Hebrew month Kislev.

I like the "dedication" version more.

Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 days. Why so? To commemorate the miracle of oil that happened when the Jews had to rededicate the temple.

Miracle of the oil.

When Jews cleaned the Temple of pigs and statues of Greek gods, they had to light a menorah to purify the place. There was only one small jar of pure oil found in the Temple, the rest was destroyed by the Greeks. The jar of oil could last only for one day, but the menorah had to be lit every day, through every night. Nevertheless the Jews decided to light the oil to rededicate the Temple. They sent for more oil that was made a special way.

The oil for purification was supposed to be special, the purest. To make this kind of pure oil only the first drop of oil from each olive could be used. It took seven days to make a needed amount of pure oil.

But the miracle happened and a small jar of oil lasted for eight days instead of one, just enough for a new batch of pure oil to be made!

Regular Hebrew Menorah vs Hanukkiah
Regular Hebrew Menorah vs Hanukkiah
Decorative hanukkia in the shape of Jerusalem wall.
Decorative hanukkia in the shape of Jerusalem wall.
Reuven (then 10 years old) lighting the Hanukkia and singing blessings in Hebrew.
Reuven (then 10 years old) lighting the Hanukkia and singing blessings in Hebrew.

Hanukkah- Festival of Lights.

In the memory of miracle of oil we light candles on the Hanukkah menorah for eight days.

Hanukkah's menorah is called "Hanukkiah" and it is different from regular Hebrew menorah. Regular Hebrew menorah has seven candle holders, and Hanukkiah has nine candle holders- eight holders for Hanukkah candles and one holder for a so-called "Shamash"- "servant". A candle holder for "shamash" stands higher than other holders, sometimes it is placed on the side of Hanukkiah, but usually in the middle of it.

"Shamash" is a candle that we light first and then with the flame of "shamash" we light Hanukkah candles. We light candles each evening for eight nights, one candle more for each night. On the first night we light a "shamash" and one candle from the right (facing hanukkiah), the second night we light a "shamash" and two candles, and so on each night until we have all eight candles burning!

That's why Hanukkah is called "Festival of lights"

When we light Hanukkah candles we sing special blessings:

First is a Blessing over Candles

  • Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melch ha'olam, asher kideshanu bemitz'votav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel Hanukah. Amen
  • Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the candle of Hanukkah. Amen

Second Blessing is for Hanukkah

  • Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha'olam, she'asah nisim la'avoteinu bayamim hahem bazman hazeh. Amen
  • Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, Who performed miracles for our ancestors in their days at this time. Amen

Third blessing is said on the first night only

  • Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha'olam, shehicheyanu vekiyimanu vehigi'anu laz'man hazeh. Amen
  • Blessed are you, Lord, our God, King of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this time. Amen

The Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah) preferably should be placed close to the window. We are not supposed to move menorah after the candles are lit and we do not use the lights of the Hanukkah candles for lightning our place.

The Hanukkah candles should be burning for at least 30 minutes and should burn down, we are not supposed to blow out Hanukkah candles.

Making Hanukkah menorah with your children is a great family fun activity for this holiday.

Hanukkah Songs mix. We are rejoicing on Jewish Holidays!

Sevivon, Dreidel, Top- same toy

Leftovers of Reuven's dreidels. He used to have a whole box! Musical dreidels, dreidels that draw circles, etc.
Leftovers of Reuven's dreidels. He used to have a whole box! Musical dreidels, dreidels that draw circles, etc.
Round musical sevivon and pink sevivon are from Israel. You see letter "Pey". Purple and blue dreidels have letter "shin", we got them in America
Round musical sevivon and pink sevivon are from Israel. You see letter "Pey". Purple and blue dreidels have letter "shin", we got them in America

Dreidel is a Hanukkah Toy! Hanukkah Gelt is Hannukah present!

In Israel it is not so customary to give a lot of gifts for Hanukkah as it is in America. In America Jewish children get many presents during Hanukkah holiday. Often times Jewish kids get a gift every night of Hanukkah. The most common gift is Hanukkah Gelt- Hannukah coins. It may be real money, or just chocolate coins. In Israel children get "Dmei Hanukkah"- Hanukkah allowance, real pocket money.

Everywhere children play with Dreidel (Sevivon, Top) during Hanukkah holiday.

The hanukkah dreidel is a spinning top with four Hebrew letters. In Hebrew it is called “Sevivon”. The word “dreidel” is Yiddish name of Hanukkah top derived from German word “drehen”, which means “to turn”.

There is an interesting detail about dreided and sevivon.

Hebrew letters that are put on the dreidel are different for dreidel (sevivon) in Israel and outside of Israel. In Israel sevivon has letters “nun, gimmel, hay and pey- נ, ג, ה, פ” and they stand for the phrase “Nes Gadol Haia Po”- “Great miracle happened HERE”.

Outside of Israel, dreidels have letters “nun, gimmel, hey and shin- נ, ג, ה, ש” that stand for a phrase “Nes Gadol Haia Sham”- “Great miracle happened THERE”.

Dreidel game has the rules:

Everyone is supposed to have the same amount of items at the beginning of the game (coins, candies, chocolates). All players put one item into the pot in the center. Then everyone takes turns in spinning the dreidel.

If a dreidel stops with the letter “nun”, a player doesn’t take anything.

If a dreidel stops with the letter “gimmel”, a player take the whole pot.

If a dreidel stops with the letter “hey”, a player takes half of the pot.

If a dreidel stops with the letter “pey/ shin”, a player puts one item into the pot.

If the pot gets empty, every player puts one item into it. The game is over when one payer get the whole pot. Then the game starts over, because no one likes to loose.

But most of the time children just enjoy spinning their dreidels and trading them.

Hanukkah Dates:

  • 2014: sunset December 16- nightfall December 24 (Jewish year of 5775)
  • 2015: sunset December 6- nightfall December 14 (Jewish year of 5776)

    2016: sunset December 24- nightfall December January 1 (Jewish year of 5777)

    2017: sunset December 12- nightfall December 20 (Jewish year of 5778)

Hanukkah is a very joyful holiday!

Please, listen to Hanukkah songs and proceed to my hub about Hanukkah recipes, Hanukkah Crafts and Gift Ideas.


Adam Sandler's Hanukkah Song Lyrics

Intro: this is a song, that uh, there's a lot of xmas songs out there, but not
Too many about hanukkah, so I wrote a song for all those nice little Jewish
Kids who don't get to hear any hanukkah songs--here we go...

Put on your yarmulka, here comes hanukkah
Its so much fun-akkah to celebrate hanukkah,

Hanukkah is the festival of lights,
Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights.

When you feel like the only kid in town without a x-mas tree, here's a list of
People who are Jewish, just like you and me:

(And here Adam Sandler sings with great sense of humor about people who are Jewish and who are not! Names are different in every song- there are 3 of them )

So drink your gin-and-tonic-ah, and smoke your mara-juanic-ah (sometimes Adam sings "but don't smoke your mara-juanic-ah) ,

If you really, really wanna-kah, have a happy, happy, happy, happy
Hanukkah! Happy hanukka!


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    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from USA

      Thank you, Debby! Blessings to you too. Happy Hanukkah!

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 

      6 years ago

      Dear ReuVera - I especially liked the Hebrew Mixed tunes of Hanukkah songs. Nice choice to share. Mostly families in Israel and probably more religious schools in America would know these songs. Hanukkah is both a family and communal holiday of joy. A holiday of freedom to practice one's religion with righteousness in foreign lands. Blessings, Debby

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from USA

      Happy Hanukkah, btrbell!

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      6 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Rue Vera, What a great nand beautiful hub, packed full of information! I enjoyed reading it and will go on to the next one! Up+ Happy Hanukah!

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from USA

      Seth, thank you for reading and commenting. I think I've heard the like story about dreidel game used to send some kind of messages, but I can't remember what exactly it was about.

      Still, I will go with my strong opinion that Hanukkah is celebrated to remember the rededication of the Temple and to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Hanukkah celebration refer to the miracle that happened on the third year of the war, when Jews regained Jerusalem, though the long was ended a couple of decades later and it was more of a surrendering of Greeks by singing a peace treaty, not an active military victory.

      I will repeat- Jews do not glorify wars. The story of the war was a part of Hanukkah story, because it happened at that time, that's all.

      Israel was attacked many times and every war was a defense war that was won by Israel, but there are no celebrations in Israel of military victories. We celebrate Independence Day because it was a date when Israel was proclaimed as a country.

      And thank you again, it's a pleasure to hear from you.

    • Sethareal profile image


      7 years ago

      What an excellent and informative hub ReuVera! I have always had a special connection to the holiday because my Bar Mitzvah fell on Chanukah so I had the pleasure of singing the special haftorah of the Zechariah chapters, ending about midway through chapter 4:

      Zerubabel, the Exilarch, rededicated the Temple by laying the foundation stone after returning from bondage in Babylon and this re-dedication is obviously what Zechariah is referring to but many believe it was more closely describing the Maccabees hundreds of years later as Zechariah prophesied. The passage is especially important because it holds one of the best lines from scripture in 4:6, "Not by might, not by power, but by spirit alone". President Obama, although recently receiving flak from the Jewish community on his Israel posturing, even quoted it in 2009:

      Also I wanted to add about the dreidel, I've heard that during the war with the Hellenized Syrians the Jews had the children play dreidel as a covert way of passing messages in their intelligence operations and if they were discovered then the children could just pretend they were playing with their tops. Who knows if this is true, just a fun little historical anecdote for the game ;).

      I disagree with you on, "Unlike an opinion that Hanukkah also celebrates military victory, I am afraid to disappoint you, it is not. Jews do not celebrate war victories, as Jews do not glorify wars." I celebrate Israel's Independence day and see it as a celebration of a war victory but not the glorification of war. How can you say that Chanukah is not a celebration of military victory after describing a 25 year war? :P. This is not to say that we are celebrating war itself, rather the END of war. You are right as the holiday has been passed down through the ages the emphasis is definitely on the re-dedication and not battlefield glory. However to me the true miracle of Chanukah has always been that we won the war and Israel was once again a Jewish nation and there is no better way symbolize and celebrate that than by honoring the re-dedication of the temple.

    • RNMSN profile image

      Barbara Bethard 

      8 years ago from Tucson, Az

      what an excellent article explaining Hanukkah!! thank you and by the way my favourite of your pyrograghy works are the two of Jerusuleum/ especially the flared carved one/the shalom wood work/I do pyrography as well and love the art!! great job!!

    • ReuVera profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from USA

      Vladimir, thank you for reading and commenting! My two most favorite Jewish holidays are Hanukkah and Purim! Though I love all Jewish holidays, but these two are my favorites.

    • Vladimir Uhri profile image

      Vladimir Uhri 

      8 years ago from HubPages, FB

      Great Hub ReuVera. Thank you.

      I love Hanukkah.


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