8 Fun Facts About Hanukkah That'll Get You In The Holiday Spirit

This is the Hanukkah video you need to see! The Big Bang Theory star, Mayim Bialik takes us through these 8 fun facts, as we learn more about Hanukkah and simultaneously get into the holiday spirit.


1) When is Hanukkah?

Unlike other holidays that are based off of the Solar Calendar, Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays are based off of the lunisolar calendar. This just means that the date for Hanukkah changes every year. It does however, always fall between late November and December, four days before the new moon. This year it will begin on the evening of Tuesday December 12 and conclude on Wednesday December 20.

2) What's the story behind Hanukkah?

Hanukkah commemorates the victory of a Jewish rebel army, the Maccabees, over the Seleucids (an ancient Hellenistic empire that ruled much of the Middle East) in 165 BCE and the subsequent re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem that had been desecrated. The historical context is the struggle between tradition and assimilation, a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

This is the reason why Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days. According to Jewish tradition, it celebrates a miracle: inside the Temple, the Maccabees found enough consecrated oil to light the eternal flame in the Temple for a single day but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to produce new oil.

3) Hanukkah is NOT the "Jewish Christmas"

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is a Jewish celebration that is held for eight days. Many people confuse Hanukkah with Christmas; often it is called the Jewish Christmas which is technically wrong. Jewish people do not celebrate Christmas, and many find it offensive when people call their celebration the Jewish Christmas.

Chanukah is a festival of light, the celebration dates back in history to a time when the Jewish people fought for their freedom and beliefs against the Greek. Christmas is celebrated by Christians and is more a religious celebration, while Hanukkah or Chanukah is a historical celebration. Some suggest that the belief in the light of their lives and faith is also part meaning of Hanukkah.

4) How widely celebrated is Hanukkah? How big of a deal is it?

Hanukkah is a post-biblical holiday. It was therefore traditionally for centuries a relatively minor Jewish holiday but it is now commonly observed by Jewish families, including many secular Jewish families.

5) Does Hanukkah involve gifting presents?

Children were traditionally gifted money ('gelt' in Yiddish) and now chocolate coins are traditionally given.

It has become quite common to give presents on each of the eight days. Some Jewish parents feel that they don't want to their children to miss out compared to children who celebrate Christmas, particularly in countries like the UK or US where there is such a long general build-up towards Christmas and where presents play such an important role.

6) What food is traditionally eaten over Hanukkah?

Food is always an important part of Jewish holidays and celebrations! Traditionally, food fried in oil (referencing the 'oil miracle') is eaten. These depend on the ethnic origin of the family but common are 'latkes' (potato pancakes) served with applesauce and sour cream and doughnuts ('sufganyot') filled with jam, dulce de leche etc.

"8 day festival of oily goodness," exclaims Mayim Bialik.

7) What is a Driedel?

The Hebrew word for dreidel is sevivon, which, as in Yiddish, means "to turn around." Dreidel s have four Hebrew letters on them, and they stand for the saying, Nes gadol haya sham, meaning A great miracle occurred there. In Israel, instead of the fourth letter shin, there is a peh, which means the saying is Nes gadol haya po — A great miracle occurred here.

Watch this video of Top Spin a year-round Dreidel competition!

A few years back, Major League Dreidel held the world's first doubles dreidel match in Brooklyn, NY. Eric Pavoney is 'the Knishiner' of the organization that promotes dreidel as a competitive sport. People come from all over to play the Hanukkah game. Their mission is to extend the dreidel season.

8) What is a Menorah?

Mainly observed at home with the family, Hanukkah involves lighting candles on the 'Hanukkiah' (or 'Hanukkah menorah') which is a special nine-branched candleholder. The ninth candle is the 'servant' who is used to light the other eight candles. Whereas, a Menorah is a 7-branched candleholder.

Happy Holidays!

Story Credit: Evening Standard

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