December 12, 2017, marks the first night of Hanukkah, a celebration marked by Jewish people around the world. Here are some of the most common practical questions asked about Hanukkah celebrations – useful things to know whether it’s your first Hanukkah or your 80th.
Because Hanukkah has eight days, we’ve answered eight questions.
What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah celebrates one of the many times in Jewish history where Jews resisted an oppressive government, in this case, the ancient Greeks. 2000 years ago, the Jewish people were unenthusiastic about being told to worship a statue of King Antiochus. They rebelled, and after a three-year war, were triumphant. To celebrate, the Jewish rebels lit an oil lamp, called a menorah, in the temple, as one does in 2000 BC. Even though there was only enough fuel for one day, the menorah lasted eight days. From this ancient miracle comes the modern holiday of Hanukkah.
Does one still light an oil lamp for Hanukkah?
Today, there’s a modern menorah, which has eight candle holders, plus a larger one, the “helper” candle, or the shumash. (You’re technically only supposed to light the regular menorah candles with the shumash, not other candles.) On the first night of Hanukkah, you light one candle, plus the shumash, two candles on the second night, and so on, until you have a fully-lit menorah on the eighth night.
How do I keep the candles from tipping over when I try to shove them into the little holes in the menorah?
This is a frequent problem, especially if you have an heirloom, user-unfriendly menorah. One idea is to allow a few drops of wax to drip into each hole, providing a sturdy basis for your candle. (This works with non-menorah candles too.) Lining the holes with foil can be helpful as well (as well as easing wax cleanup).
When do I light the menorah?
Traditionally, when the first star appears in the sky. If you don’t have time to scour the skies, any time after sunset is fine.
Are there any good Hanukkah songs?
It depends somewhat on your taste. The classic Hanukkah songs are “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel” (a kid’s song about a little top that is traditionally played with on Hanukkah), and “Hanukkah O Hanukkah.” Contemporary sorts often prefer songs like Adam Sandler’s “The Hanukkah Song.”
Why are you spelling Hanukkah like that? I thought it was spelled Chanukah.
Because Hanukkah is translated from Hebrew, there is no one correct spelling. The first letter of the word, het, is technically rolled or aspirated a bit in Hebrew, and is often transliterated as “Ch” in English. Hanukkah is the most common spelling, so that’s what we’re going with.
What foods are eaten for Hanukkah?
Because the origins of Hanukkah are all about oil, foods fried in oil are classic choices. The most widely-known Hanukkah delicacy are latkes, fried potato pancakes, though sufganiyot, donuts fried in oil, are popular as well.
Should I give presents for Hanukkah?
Absolutely. In the United States, Hanukkah is a major time to give gifts for Jewish people. And because Hanukkah lasts eight days, you have eight opportunities to give Hanukkah presents. At Zeel, we obviously think that massage makes a great Hanukkah gift – and there are many others, included in our feel-good wellness gifting guide.
Marcy is the SVP of People and Communications at Zeel. In addition to overseeing the humans of Zeel, Marcy has written about workplace topics for more than 20 years both at Zeel and as VP of Content for Vault.com, a career information web site and publisher.