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Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is an eight-day Jewish festival observed in the Hebrew calendar month of Kislev. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire in 164 BCE. After the successful capture of Jerusalem, Jewish rebel leader Judas Maccabeus ordered the Temple be cleansed and restored, and for a new altar to be installed and dedicated on Kislev 25. Maccabeus then proclaimed an eight-day celebration of the Temple each year thereafter.
Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, in reference to the lighting of the hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah, a nine-branched candelabra reminiscent of the Temple lampstand. Eight of the nine branches of the hanukkiah hold candles symbolising the eight nights of the holiday, and the ninth branch holds the shamash, or attendant candle, used to light the other eight. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, and then one more is lit each successive night until all branches of the hanukkiah are alight on the final night. The origin of this custom lies in the story that when Judas Maccabeus first entered the temple, he could only find one small pot of oil that had not been tainted by the Seleucids. Although the pot contained only enough oil to light the Temple menorah for a single day, it miraculously burned on for eight days – long enough for new oil to be made.
Nonreligious traditions of Hanukkah include singing, games, giving gifts to children, and of course, special holiday foods. It is said that because the Hanukkah miracle was to do with the oil for the lamp, foods fried in oil are the custom. Potato latkes served with sour cream and applesauce are a favourite, as are jelly-filled doughnuts known as sufganiyah. The most famous Hanukkah game is dreidel, a simple game of chance where a top (the dreidel) is spun and chocolate coins, nuts, or other trinkets are won or lost.
Religious customs of Hanukkah include the recitation of scripture, daily prayers, hymns, and almsgiving. Thanks are given to God for the delivery of the strong into the hands of the weak, and the evil into the hands of the good. Hanukkah is seen as a celebration of Jewish strength and perseverance, and about standing up for what is right. Just as each evening is brighter with the lighting of the hanukkiah candles, so should our goodness and Torah-observance increase each day.
Hanukkah begins at sunset on Kislev 25, that is the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month of the Hebrew lunisolar calendar. In the Gregorian calendar this corresponds to late November through late December.
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