Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish festival of lights. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt (167 – 160 BC). The miracle of Hanukkah is that a one-day supply of olive oil lasted for eight days.
Hanukkah is Hanukah is Chanukah
Hanukkah is also spelled “Hanukah” or “Chanukah.” The “cha” is pronounced “kha,” hence the various spellings.
The dates of Hanukkah vary with the Hebrew calendar. It is usually in December, but sometimes in late November. In 2023, Hanukkah is from sundown on Thursday, December 7 to sundown on Friday, December 15, 2023.
Hanukkah in New York City
Like most religious traditions, Hanukkah is mostly celebrated at home and in synagogue. But New York City has two public menorah lightings at Grand Army Plaza in Manhattan and in Brooklyn. Both claim to be the “world’s largest” menorah lightings. That’s fine. We have the two world’s largest menorah lightings.
The 2023 Central Park Menorah Lighting is at Grand Army Plaza in Central Park on Thursday, December 7, 2023 at 5:30pm and continues throughout Hanukkah (December 12 at 3:30pm, December 13 at 8:30pm). FREE. centralpark.com 🕎
The 2023 Prospect Park Menorah Lighting starts with a concert on Thursday, December 7, 2023 at 5pm, and continues at various times throughout Hanukkah. FREE. chabadparkslope.com 🕎
Brooklyn menorah lightings are usually at 6pm (Fridays 3:30pm, Saturdays 7:15pm, Sundays, 5pm).
The Story of Hanukkah
In the second century BCE, Jerusalem was ruled by the Seleucids, a Syrian-Greek dynasty. When the Seleucids tried to force the Jews to worship Greek Gods, a small group, led by Judah the Maccabee, revolted. They defeated one of the great armies of the time and reclaimed the Temple of Jerusalem.
When they went to light the Temple menorah, they found only one good jar of olive oil. The Greeks had ruined the rest. They lit the menorah anyway and began preparing new oil. Miraculously, that one-day supply lasted for eight days until a supply of new oil could be prepared.
The special Hanukkah Menorah holds nine candles. We use the center candle, the shamash (attendant), to light the others.
On the first night we light one candle. Each night we light another until all eight candles are lit. Each night we recite special blessings, sing songs, and eat fried food such as latkes with applesauce or sour cream and jelly donuts to remember the miracle of the oil. Yum!
Children play with the dreidel. It is a spinning top with four Hebrew letters on it. Children can win small gifts depending on which letter lands up when the spinning stops.
We give Hanukkah Gelt (chocolate money) to children. It’s an old tradition with multiple levels of meaning.
Hanukkah is a unique Jewish tradition in that we show our menorahs publicly. It’s easy to trivialize Hanukkah the way Christmas has been trivialized, but it is a family and communal time of sharing and teaching who we are to the next generations.
However you celebrate, Hanukkah Sameach! (Happy Hanukkah!)