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Is it Chanukah or Hanukkah and When Does It Begin?

The holiday is known as the eight-day 'Festival of Lights'; the grand menorah will be lit at Laguna Niguel City Hall Sunday afternoon.

Hanukkah, often spelled Chanukah, Judaism's eight-day "Festival of Lights'' commemorating the Maccabees' victory over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C., begins at sundown or 4:42 p.m. in Laguna Niguel.

The grand menorah lighting and celebration in Laguna Niguel is Sunday, Dec. 9, 3:30 p.m. at Laguna Niguel City Hall, 30111 Crown Valley Pkwy. City dignitaries, including the mayor and council will be there to celebrate with the commmunity. 

As to the origins, once the Jews defeated the Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.

According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to
light the temple's ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of
their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil,
however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.

Hanukkah -- which means dedication in Hebrew -- is observed around the
world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukiah each day at
sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day. The reason
for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the
holiday's miracle.

Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top,
which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in olive oil, such as
potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts.

Children receive Hanukkah "gelt'' (the Yiddish word for money) from
parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th century Polish
Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah,
which led to parents also giving children money.

In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts
to children and others, akin to Christmas gift-giving.

Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or
the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and
attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a
military victory.

As to the question of: Is it Chanukah or Hanukkah? Chabad.org says: 

"In the Hebrew, Chanukah is pronounced with the letter chet. The chet’s “ch” sound is not enunciated like the “ch” in child; rather it’s a guttural, throaty sound—like the “ch” in Johann Bach—which does not have an English equivalent. The letter “H” is the closest, but it’s not really it. So while some people spell and pronounce it “Chanukah” and others settle for “Hanukkah,” they really are one and the same."

In his Hanukkah message, President Barack Obama said: "Hanukkah is a
time to celebrate the faith and customs of the Jewish people, but it is also an
opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize the common aspirations we
share.''

"This holiday season, let us give thanks for the blessings we enjoy and
remain mindful of those who are suffering,'' Obama said. "And let us
reaffirm our commitment to building a better, more complete world for all.''

--City News Services contributed to this report

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