There is much more to Hanukkah than getting presents for eight days. Here are seven things you might want to know about the 'Festival of Lights,' which began at sundown tonight.
Common FAQs about Hannukah:
1. Q: When and why did actor/comedian Adam Sandler write the now-famous "Hanukkah Song?"
A: Jewish comedian and actor Adam Sandler has said he wrote “The Hanukkah Song” with Saturday Night Live writers Lewis Morton and Ian Maxtone-Graham. He originally performed the song on SNL’s Weekend Update on Dec. 3, 1994. He later included the song in some of his stand-up comedy routines. He has said the reason he wrote the song is because "Jewish children feel alienated around Christmas-time, when they are surrounded by Christmas music and decorations but don’t celebrate the holiday themselves."
2. Q: Why does the Hanukkah date change every year?
A: Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is primarily based on the lunar cycle, and its dates fluctuate with respect to other calendar systems. Thus, the first day of Hanukkah can fall anywhere between Nov. 28 and Dec. 26, says Chabad.org.
3. Q: What does 'dreidel' mean and what is it?
A: Dreidel is a Yiddish word which comes from the word drei, which means to turn, or spin. The dreidel is a specially-designed spinning top used for Chanukah games, says Chabad.org.
4. Q: How is it spelled Hanukkah or Chanukah?
A: 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, says Chabad.org.
5. Q: What does the holiday celebrate?
A: Hanukkah celebrates two miracles: a) The second century BCE victory of a small, greatly outnumbered and out-armed army of Jews, known as the “Maccabees,” over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion was in response to the Greek attempt to force a Hellenistic G‑dless lifestyle on the Jewish inhabitants of Israel.
b) The kindling of a seven-branched Menorah (candelabra) was an important component of the daily service in the Holy Temple. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse of pure and undefiled olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah. The problem was, it was sufficient to light the Menorah only for one day, and it would take eight days to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights, says Chabad.org.
6. Q: What does the word Hanukkah mean?
A: Hanukkah means “dedication” or “induction.” Following their victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by the pagan invaders, says Chabad.org.
The word Hanukkah can also be divided into two: Chanu—they rested, andKah—which has the numerical value of 25. On the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev the Maccabees rested from their battle, and triumphantly marched into the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate it.
7. Q: How is the holiday celebrated?
A: On each of the eight days of Hanukkah, Jews light the Menorah, a nine-branched candelabra, after nightfall (aside for Friday afternoon, when the candles are lit shortly before sunset). On the first night, they kindle one light plus the shamash (attendant candle), on the second night, they kindle two lights plus the shamash, and so they continue until the eighth night when they kindle all eight lights plus the shamash. The Menorah lights can be either candles, or oil and wicks.
It is customary on Hanukkah to give money gifts to children, and to play dreidel games.
It is also customary to give an increased amount of charity each day of Hanukkah.
There are also certain passages added to the daily prayers and saying grace after meals, says Chabad.org.