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What is Hanukkah?

Updated on November 29, 2016
btrbell profile image

Randi was born and raised by Jewish parents. At age 35, she became an Israeli citizen.

A Commercialized Hannukah

Since Hanukkah generally coincides with the Christmas season, people tend to group it in the same holiday spirit. It has,sadly become a very commercial, gift giving extravaganza that many people don't even know what we are actually celebrating.

When I was much younger, someone came up with Chanukah Charlie so that Jewish kids wouldn't feel left out when Santa didn't come knocking at their door.

There is even a Mensch on a Bench to mimic the Elf on a Shelf!

Yet, as commercialized as it has become, we still have not agreed on a universal spelling for it!

A public Hanukkah menorah in Donetsk, Ukraine.
A public Hanukkah menorah in Donetsk, Ukraine. | Source

What is Hanukkah?

The word Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew. Hanukkah is known as the The Festival or Feast of Dedication or The Festival or Feast of Lights. It is an eight day festival commemorating the victory of the Maccabees* over Antiochus** in 165 b.c. as they reclaimed and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.

*The Maccabees were leaders of a Jewish rebel army.

**Antiochus was a Greek King who was famous for his contributions to the Hellenistic Period.

Eternal Flame

The eternal flame is called Ner Tamid.(נר תמיד) It hangs above the ark in every synagogue to represent G-d's eternal presence in our lives. It is often associated with the menorah, the candelabra that stands in front of the temple in Jerusalem.

The Miracle of Hanukkah.

When the temple was recovered from the Syrians in 165, the first order of business for the Maccabean soldiers was to reignite the eternal flame.They had only enough oil for one day and did not know how long it would take for reinforcements to get back. Miraculously, that tiny bit of oil burned for eight days until help arrived. What better miracle for weary soldiers than the presence of G-d? That is why, Jewish people around the world celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and traditionally, light a candle each night to represent the miracle of the oil.

Typical Hanukkah Foods.

The most common foods we eat on Hanukkah are foods that are fried in oil. Potato pancakes (latkes or levivot) and doughnuts (suvganiyot) are the most popular. Another tradition is to give Hanukkah "gelt" (coins) Typically, children are given silver dollars as one of their gifts as well as bags of chocolate coins.

Check out my recipe for Sweet Potato Pancakes.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Colorful dreidls sold in Israel."Latkes", infamous potato pancakes with sour cream. famous Hanukkah tradition, "Sufganiyah" (doughnuts)
Colorful dreidls sold in Israel.
Colorful dreidls sold in Israel. | Source
"Latkes", infamous potato pancakes with sour cream.
"Latkes", infamous potato pancakes with sour cream. | Source
 famous Hanukkah tradition, "Sufganiyah" (doughnuts)
famous Hanukkah tradition, "Sufganiyah" (doughnuts) | Source

How to play the Dreidel Game

  • Any number of players from age 1 to 99.
  • Each player should have at least 20 "tokens"
  • Each player puts one token in the "pot" at the beginning of each round and any time it is empty.
  • Decide who starts and which direction you will go in.
  • Each player spins the dreidl and follows these directions, depending on which side it lands:
  1. נ The player does nothing
  2. ג The player puts everything in the pot
  3. ה The player gets half the pot
  4. ש or פ The player puts one token in the pot.
  • Each player is out when he runs out of tokens.
  • The winner is the one with the most tokens.

What is a Dreidel?

The dreidel (sevivon) is a game played with a four-sided top. Each side has a different Hebrew letter printed on it that represents a sentence. In Israel, one side is different.

A dreidel in Israel:

  • נ ג ה פ
  • נס גדול היה פו
  • A great miracle happened here.

A dreidel in all other countries:

  • נ ג ה ש
  • נס גדול היה שם
  • A great miracle happened there.

The dreidel game is actually a gambling game and can be played with money, tokens or treats. The rules may vary from home to home but here are a few basic instructions:



What is your favorite holiday tradition? Feel free to add more in the comment section!

See results
Getting our Hanukkah on!
Getting our Hanukkah on! | Source

Typical Hanukkah Celebrations.

Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah during the eight days. A candle is lit for each night to represent the oil. The family generally gathers around the Menorah (Hanukkiah) at sundown and lights the candles with a prayer of blessing. It is traditional to sing Hanukkah songs and eat treats. There is generally some gift giving involved, as well. In most cultures, tradition is to give one gift for each night of Hanukkah. It doesn't have to be a big gift.The traditions vary from home to home. In our home, we give a gift every night when we light the candles but we don't always light the candles exactly at sundown. We wait for all of us to be together.

© 2013 Randi Benlulu

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    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Randi, I love it when you write about Jewish faith and practices. You have a very easy, flowing way to share information which makes it enjoyable for the reader. Oh, and by the way, G-d. Even in English? I did not know that.

      thanks for sharing Hanukkah with us.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Chris! What a generous compliment! I believe, but am not certain that writing G-d came from the Hebrew version with the meaning being the same.

    • Frank Atanacio profile image

      Frank Atanacio 3 years ago from Shelton

      thank you btrbell for this interesting educational holiday hub.. actually learned some things :)

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Randi, I just want to be sure we are talking about the same thing. This comes from my own reading, so I may have gotten inaccurate information. As I understand it, Jewish people do not fully write out the name of God in Hebrew. Since you spelled it in English as G-d, I was wondering if the practice by Jews applied to other languages in addition to Hebrew

      . Am I understanding correctly or am I coming across as a complete moron? :)

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Frank! I'm glad! :)

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      No, not a moron, at all. You were right, I just want clear in my answer. In English we write G-d like this for the same reason we do in Hebrew because he is too holy to spell it out in full. I am not sure about other languages besides the 2 but it would stand to reason. So, I guess it would be best to say it is a "Jewish" rule over a linguistic one!

    • cam8510 profile image

      Chris Mills 3 years ago from St. Louis, MO until the end of June, 2017

      Thanks for the explanation Randi. Now it makes perfect sense. I hope you have a very nice Sunday.

    • Faith Reaper profile image

      Faith Reaper 3 years ago from southern USA

      Thanks for sharing, Randi. Very interesting and I learned a lot too. Christmas, too, has become so commercial, sadly, and the real meaning gets lost in all of excitement and frenzy of shopping. I love gathering with friends and family at the holidays and being together is most important.

      Up and more and sharing

      Blessings, Faith Reaper

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I love hubs like this one where I can learn something about an important topic....so thank you!

      Have a great Sunday!

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      Great hub, Randi! Thanks for explaining the dreidel! There is a Jewish pastry where I go regularly and I can see those little square spinning top and for ages I was wondering what was the use.... but I was to afraid to ask! So thank you for that explanation :-)

      Enjoy your Hanukkah!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      Very interesting hub. Like kidscrafts, I thank you for explaining the dreidel. I knew the other stuff, but I didn't know the rules of the game.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Chris, it's a sunny day and I am off of work, it better be a good day! You have a great one, too!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, Faith! I can always count on you! The commercialism, while over the top, is also what gets us in the holiday "spirit" Crazy world we live in! Blessinfgs to you also, Faith!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Bill! That was the educational one....watch fior the one from the heart! Have a great Sunday to you, as well!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Joelle! I am so jealous that you have a kosher pastry near you. We have nothing here. I looked all for dreidels here and couldn't find any. Luckily our little Jace is too young to know the difference yet!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Sheila! I would venture to say that the rules probably change from house to house and many don't even play!

    • mts1098 profile image

      mts1098 3 years ago from InsideTheManCave

      What a great piece on your religion...Cheers and thanks

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 3 years ago from Wales

      Than you so much for this gem Randi; a vote up for you once again. Sending lots of love from Wales your way.

      Eddy.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, mts1098 and welcome to my page!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Eddy! You are a sweetheart! Lots of love back at you!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 3 years ago from New York

      Thank you so much for sharingRandi. The best way for people to learn and understand is through sharing hubs like this with their easy to understand knowledge laid out for all to read.

      Yes, Christmas and Hanukkah have always been tied together making it difficult sometimes for Christians to understand the holy feast that Hanukkah is.

      Voted up, useful, and interesting. I shared as well.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

      Thank you for this. I learned a lot, including why G-d kept appearing in your hubs. I had thought it was a typo, not knowing, so thanks for the education! I enjoyed reading this.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you do much, Mary. I always like I should acknowledge the holidays. Now with a little one in the house again, I decided to start from the beginning! Thank you do much for your votes and share!

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, Flourishanyway! I probably should have provided that explanation in the body of the hub!

    • profile image

      sheilamyers 3 years ago

      btrbll: I had to laugh at you saying the rules may be different from one family to another. That reminded me of what I always call the "Myers Rules" of any game. We usually start by using the rules written on the boxes of board games and then change them to make things more interesting.

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      That's funny, Sheila! And that is probably how a lot of rules get decided/changed from place to place!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

      Beautiful photos, and a wonderful, clearly stated and easily understood explanation of what Hanukkah is. This will be very useful to many people searching for answers. :) Happy Hanukkah, my friend. Voted UP/U/I/A and shared.

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 3 years ago from Singapore

      Nice post with lovely photos

    • btrbell profile image
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      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, Denise! Much appreciated!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, MG Singh! And welcome to my hub!

    • profile image

      Sueswan 3 years ago

      Hi Randi,

      Thank you for sharing your faith with us. I knew why Hanukkah lasts eight days but I didn't know about the Dreidel game. Loved the video. Voted up , beautiful and sharing.

      Happy Hanukkah!

      Sue

    • kidscrafts profile image

      kidscrafts 3 years ago from Ottawa, Canada

      I am sorry to hear that you don't have a kosher pastry in Phoenix!

      I love that pastry/bakery because they have good bread and I can buy fresh yeast when I prepare my Dutch Christmas breads :-) It was easy to find fresh yeast in Belgium but not here.

      Seeing the picture of the menorah on top of your hub make me think that I will design a craft for Hanukkah in 2014.

      When I was a teacher, I had children from a little bit everywhere with different religions and I found that very nice that they could learn and respects the religions and traditions of their peers. Before the Christmas break, I would ask each kid to bring food from their country of origin so we could all share a meal. I brought something from Belgium and the Netherlands :-)

      PS : I hope that your daughter is feeling better now :-)

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I went into a medical team meeting this morning and the psychiatrist brought in a large casserole dish filled with potato pancakes he wanted to share with us. First time for me...they were delicious!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you so much, Sue! Your comments, votes and share are truly appreciated. This year, Hanukkah was exciting because we have our first little one since his mom was small.

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Joelle, we have been here in Arizona almost 6 years and I have yet to find much in the way of kosher or traditionally Jewish foods.

      I have some Hanukkah projects, as well. I would love to share.

      Thank you for asking about my daughter! It has been slow going. She is starting to get up a little and I am hoping that she will continue to heal!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hey Denise! They are yummy but it is a messy, smelly job making them and I don't always have the patience! How nice of him to share! It surely was a labor of love!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Well thank you, I never really knew what Hanukkah was and now I do! So glad we Christians do not have to give gifts more than one time and it is too bad all of it has gotten so commercial. Surely remembering our savior and spending loving time with family and a hot meal would be so much better than all the pressure of presents. lol

      Well, happy Hanukkah, Randi and I hope the new temple will be built very soon. I love the story of the flame, which reminds me of the stories in the old testament of how oil was used in faith many times. ^

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 3 years ago from Chicago Area

      Hanukkah was soooo early this year... and coinciding with Thanksgiving no less! Hope you enjoyed your celebrations. Great info!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Hey Jackie, nice to see you! I do agree with you about the commercialism but we try to keep it "homey" at our house. My kids didn't get any gifts yet. I usually take them out to the after Christmas sales. They get what they want this way (and more of it!) The baby got goift (of course!) and the kids had a beautiful calander made for me with our little angel featured on every page. Blessed!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Crazy how early it was, Heidi! It was nice and quiet here! I hope you have a wonderful holiday, also!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Great idea waiting til after Christmas! Oh I have my first grandchild on a calender and it is a prized possession for sure!

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

      I didn't realize they were such an annoyance making. Makes me appreciate them even more! Thanks for your feedback. :)

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Jackie, congratulations! I am so excited for you! It little Jace (my first) has been s blessing and a joy!

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 3 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      You're welcome, Denise!

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 2 months ago from South Africa

      I must admit, this is the first time I took interest in the meaning/purpose of Hanukkah.

      I remember the story about the oil that burned for eight days, but somehow I have forgotten where I've heard it and why.

      Thanks for bringing the lasting oil and the Jewish people together in my mind again, btrbell!

      This creation of a Santa Claus is exactly what had happened in Christianity. Those 3 wise man who brought gifts to baby Jesus were summarily changed into a single figure similar to the existing figure in paganism that was supposed to please children.

      What parent doesn't want to make their children happy?

      And so the exploitation began.

      Before commercialization the church itself had reaped the financial benefits of religious holidays.

    • btrbell profile image
      Author

      Randi Benlulu 2 months ago from Mesa, AZ

      Thank you, Martie and you are welcome! In addition to greediness and exploitation, add the whole "behavior" factor, "You better watch out..."

      The "elf on the shelf". I'm all for rewarding good behavior in kids. but tying it into religion? A few weeks ago, a neighbor told my 3 year old grandson that he should be good or Santa won't come to our house. He told her Santa doesn't come to our house. Her reply was "Oh. so you already know you're going to be bad" What is this message we are giving our children?!?

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