Israel: Hanukkah, What It Is and Why It’s Celebrated

Festivals and Holidays

Hanukkah is an important celebration in Israeli, but it is not a national holiday in the Jewish state. The 8-day festival runs from 6 December to 14 December in 2015. But what is it and why is it celebrated by Jews around the world?


Eighteenth century painting of Hanukkah being celebrated. This photograph is the Public Domain.


Hanukkah is a Jewish festival that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, purity over adulteration, and spirituality over materialism.

Hanukkah is a joyful 8-day Jewish celebration, which is held on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah can occur as early as late November and as late as late December in the Gregorian calendar.

Kisle is the 3rd month of the civil year and the 9th month of the ecclesiastical year on the Hebrew calendar.

While Hanukkah is an important festival in the Jewish state of Israel, it is not an official holiday.

In the United States, which has a large Jewish community, Hanukkah started taking on greater importance in the 1970s because of its proximity to Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Lighting Candles


Hanukkah being celebrated at  Meah Shearim in Jerusalem, Israel. Photo  Credit: Andrew Ratto.


Often spelled Chanukah, Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.

Jews in Israel and around the world observe Hanukkah by lighting candles on 9 branched candalabra, known as menorahs or hanukiahs.

They light one candle on the first night of the holiday, adding a 2nd candle on the 2nd night, a 3rd candle of the 3rd night, and so forth, until all 8 candles are lit on the final night of Hanukkah.

The 9th branch is located at the middle of the menorah. It is sometimes higher or lower than the other 8 branches. The 9th candle is used to light the other candles.

Hanukkah_Dreidel_Marin_Photo_Credit_Marion_AaragayDuring Hanukkah, celebrants say prayers, sing songs when the candles are lit, and play a special game using a dreidel (left), which is similar to a child’s wooden top.

They also give gifts of gold foil covered chocolate money to children and eat foods fried in oil such as jelly donuts and latkes, a type of potato pancake. So what is the story behind the celebration?

According to legend, a small band of Jewish rebels opposing the occupation of their land by Greek-Syrian forces, rose up against their oppressors in 167 BC.

Spanning 3 years, the uprising led to the expulsion of the occupying forces from city of Jerusalem. When the Jews attempted to rededicate the Holy Temple, which had been desecrated by their oppressors, there was insufficient olive oil to carry out the task.

While there was only enough oil to last for one night, the candelabrum miraculously burned for 8 consecutive nights, which was enough time for a fresh supply of sacred oil to be produced.

Hanukkah, which is Hebrew for “dedication”, celebrates the recovery of Jerusalem and the re-dedication of the Holy Temple.



A menorah is a candelabrum, which usually has  9 branches. This menorah at a restaurant in Lodz, Poland, has only 7. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons.



Dreidels for sale at the Machne Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel. The blue dreidel have Israeli lettering. The orange dreidel have diaspora lettering. Photo Credit: Adiel Lo.

Fried Donuts


Chocolate and vanilla cream donuts on display at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel, during Hanukkah. Photo Credit: Yoninah.

Fried Latke

Hanukkah-potato-pancake-photo-credit-Clemens-Pfeiffer (2)

Fried latke, a kind of potato pancake. Photo Credit: Clemens-Pfeiffer.



Chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, made by Elite.. Photo Credit: Evan-Amos.

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Talking Points

If you are Jewish,what how do you celebrate Hanukkah?

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