Eight days, Eight candles - The Jewish Festival

Hanukkah is the feast of the faithful Jews to commemorate the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem. Thus we reveal to you all kinds of interesting facts about the Jewish festival of lights, its meaning, its origin, and its customs.

happy hanukkah celebration image

When is Hanukkah celebrated?

Hanukkah is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar in the month of Kislev, lasts eight days and ends on the 2nd or 3rd Tevet. According to the Gregorian calendar, the Hanukkah festival falls on the following dates:

Hanukkah 2018: December 2 to 10.

Hanukkah 2019: 22 to 30 December

Hanukkah 2020: 10 to 18 December

The origins of the Hanukkah festival

Hanukkah is the festival of consecration and commemorates the rededication of the second Jewish temple in Jerusalem after the successful Maccabean uprising of the Jews of Judea in the 2nd century B.C. Actually, the peoples could have got along quite well with each other. But the Greek king Antiochos IV decided to ban Judaism and consecrate the temple to the ancient Greek gods. The practice of the Jewish faith was punished with prison or death.

The Jews reacted to this forced Hellenization with a revolt that went down in history as the Maccabean revolt. To put an end to their persecution, Judas Maccabeus and his family took the lead in the uprising in the name of the faith. After three years they triumphed in 140 B.C. on the 25th of Kislev. On this occasion, a light was lit with consecrated oil and miraculously burned for eight days.

Judas Maccabeus then introduced the Hanukkah festival as an annual commemoration of this victory of Judaism. Although the fighting did not end there and continued for more than twenty years, this episode went down in history as a symbol of Jewish faith and spiritual resistance.

The Hanukkah tradition

The Hanukkah festival is celebrated by believing Jews worldwide for eight days, during which a special eight-armed candlestick, the Hanukkia, is lit with a ninth arm, the servant. The candles of Hanukkah are lit from left to right, one more candle every evening, and tradition requires that the Hanukkah candleholder be placed in the window so that it is clearly visible.

Lighting the Hanukkia after dark is a festive ritual in which families pray and sing. It is played and - in memory of the miracle of light - food fried in oil is served on the table, because according to legend, after the liberation of the people of Israel from the Seleucid rule and the forced Hellenization with the crowd, the lights of the temple candlestick burned for hardly a day for a whole eight days.

Typical Hanukkah dishes are potato pancakes (latkes) and stuffed doughnuts (sufganiyah) or apple rings. Everything is possible. As long as it is baked or fried in oil.

Nowadays, children receive small gifts such as coins and chocolate coins as symbols of donations and good deeds, and are also encouraged to donate part of the money to charity. They play with spinning tops or the typical dreidel, a spinning top game that enabled believing Jews at the time of their persecution under the Seleucid rule to continue teaching and learning the forbidden Torah.

The family is the focus of the Hanukkah celebration with strong symbolic power. It symbolizes the social core that can escape and withstand the persecution of faith. This belief is confirmed by the victory of the Maccabees in the family association.

Eight days, eight candles

Babylonian exile, Hellenism, Romans: the Jews are proud to have preserved their religion through all the turmoil of history. Several festivals in the Jewish calendar go back to the stories of self-assertion and salvation from extinction of the Jewish people - including Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev. According to the Christian calendar, the date of Hanukkah changes every year, so the 2018 festival will begin on 3 December 2018, and the 2019 festival on 23 December 2019.

Since the 4th century before Christ, the Jews in Palestine lived under Hellenistic rule and were not allowed to practice their religion. Under the leadership of Judas Maccabeus the Jews revolted in the 2nd century B.C., reconquered Jerusalem and established an independent Jewish state. Judas had the desecrated temple in Jerusalem cleaned and restored. On the 25th of Kislev in 3595 (which corresponds to the year 165 B.C.) the Temple was solemnly reconsecrated. The Jews celebrate this event with Hanukkah (Hanukkah habajit = dedication of the temple).

The legend of the oil miracle

When the Jews cleaned up the reconquered Temple, they found only a small barrel of oil to light the light in the Temple. The small bottle of lamp oil was enough for one night only, but in the end it burned for eight days - a miracle! This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days. By the way, this legend is not found in the Bible, but in the Talmud, the textbook of the Jewish faith.

Candlestick I

In memory of the oil miracle, the Hanukkah candlestick - it is called "Hanukkia" - still has eight arms: On every Hanukkah evening, one more light is lit, always from right to left, so that on the last evening all eight candles are lit.

Candlestick II

Lighting of Chanukkah: Lighting is done by means of the ninth candle in the middle, called the "service light" or "servant". By the way: The candles are always lit from left to right; so on the third day the order in which the candles are lit is: the third candle from the right, a second candle from the right, candle on the far right.

Candlestick III

Most Jewish families have several Hanukkah candlesticks at home: one for the living room, one for the window and even the children have their own Hanukkah in the children's room.

December dilemma and Christmas

When the Christmas season breaks out in the USA, there is no escape: Christmas music in every department store, a Santa Claus on every corner - a dichotomy for many Jews. Some solve this 'December dilemma' with a mixture of both celebrations, give presents to friends and family on the eight days of Hanukkah and set up a Hanukkah bush with colorful baubles, Jewish Stars of David and Hebrew letters.

Similarities of Hanukkah and Christmas:

Hanukkah and Jewish self-confidence

Oil miracles are all well and good - but the true miracle is the victory of a handful of Jews over the numerically stronger and better-equipped Hellenists. In modern Jewish nationalism in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Maccabees, the leaders of the struggle, were therefore stylized as heroes. "Maccabees" became a popular name for Jewish sports clubs, even today the Jewish gymnastics and sports association is called "Maccabees".