Happy Chanukah

Chanukah (or the wider-known spelling of Hanukkah) is a Jewish holiday celebrated around the world, particularly in Israel and the United States. Here are ways to celebrate Chanukah, as well as the story of how the holiday came to be.


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A traditional menorah used to celebrate Hanukkah.

Rebecca Harris, Columnist

The Story of Chanukah

The story of Chanukah is told in many different ways, but this is a version of the traditional story as told by Susan Fischer Weis in her book “The Complete Guide to Hanukkah”:

“A long time ago, the land Israel was ruled by a cruel tyrant from Syria, named Antiochus. He wanted all the people of the land to worship him and his Greek gods. This wicked king outlawed Judaism, Shabbat and Torah study. He set up idols in the Temple and made forbidden sacrifices. 

“One day a Syrian soldier came to the town of Modi-in with a statue of Antiochus. He wanted all the Jews to worship this idol. Mattathias, a Jewish leader, smashed the idol and said, ‘All who want to fight for the L-rd, follow me.’ And this is how the revolt began.

“Mattathias and his five sons led the fight against Antiochus and his army. Judah, the strongest son, was nicknamed Maccabee, which means hammer. Succeeding his father, Judah became the leader of the freedom fighters, who came to be known as the Maccabees.

“After three years the Maccabees were victorious and freed the city of Jerusalem. They cleaned out the Temple and prepared to rededicate it, but they needed pure oil for the menorah. 

“The Talmud tells us that they found enough oil for only one day. Miraculously it lasted for eight days.” 


One of the most important traditions of Hanukkah is lighting the menorah, or hanukkiah. The menorah has nine branches, eight for the candles that symbolize the nights the miracle oil lasted, and one for the shamash (helper). To light the menorah, the candles are placed and lit from right to left. The number of candles will depend on the night, on the first night there is one candle and the shamash, on the second night there will be two candles and on. The shamash is used to light all the other candles. Apart from the candles, what are some common traditions?

Playing dreidel is one of the better-known celebrations and traditions of Chanukah. Many people have gotten creative, such as trying to spin the dreidel by its handle. There are four symbols on the dreidel, Hey/Peh, Gimmel, Nun, and Shin. They translate to “A Great Miracle Happened There/Here” depending on where in the world the dreidel came from. To play dreidel, everyone starts out with an equal amount of coins, or other small object. People take turns spinning the dreidel, and whatever they land on dictates what they do with their coins. Here is a step-by-step guide to playing dreidel.

Eating fried foods is also a large tradition. This is to commemorate the miracle oil that lasted for the eight days. Latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) are the most common, however any kind fried foods are enjoyed.

Playing dreidel and lighting the menorah are just some of the traditions. Chanukah is a holiday of family and friends, and its celebrations are enjoyed by Jews around the world.