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Our Global Community: What is Hanukkah And Why Is It Celebrated?

Across the UK and around the world, Jewish adults and children celebrate the Jewish festival of lights called Hanukkah – filled with doughnut-eating, candle-lighting and plenty of celebrations.

Hanukkah (or Chanukah in Hebrew) is an eight-day festival – known as the festival of lights – that is one of the most important times in the Jewish calendar, with families spending quality time together, exchanging presents and lighting eight special candles.

The date of Hanukkah changes every year; however, it always falls in either November or December and lasts for eight days. The date is different every year as the Hebrew calendar is based on the lunar cycle rather than the solar cycle. This year the festival will begin on Sunday, 28th November and end of Monday, 6th December.

The festival commemorates the period in history more than 2,500 years ago when a Jewish holy temple was seized by Syrian-Greek forces.

The king of these forces, Antiochus, gave the Jewish people an impossible choice – either renounce their religion and beliefs or be sentenced to death.

Jewish rebels fought back against King Antiochus and were able to reclaim the holy temple after a three year war. However, upon recapturing the temple, they discovered that there was only enough oil left to keep the holy light, known as Ner Tamid in Hebrew, for one more day. The flame of the holy light is never meant to go out.

Miraculously, the flame of the holy light stayed alight for eight more days, which was long enough for more oil to be made.

The eight candles that are lit on the eight days of the festival commemorate this event.

During the eight days of Haunkkah, families light a candle after sunset, except on Fridays where it is lit before the Sabbath candle, adding one more candle for every night of the festival until all eight candles are lit on the final night.

It is traditional to place candles in the windows of a family’s home so that those passing by can see it. Other customs include eating foods fried in oil, such as doughnuts, to celebrate the miracle with the oil keeping the holy light alight.  

Another tradition of the festival is a special game that the whole family plays together. The game involves a spinning top called a dreidel, which is a cube-shaped dice with a Hebrew letter on each of the four sides.   

The festival is a celebratory one, with parties held and gifts given; it is also common to give children a small gift of money known as Hanukkah gelt, in addition to chocolate coins.

If you want to give festive greetings to your Jewish friends, simply wish them a ‘Happy Hanukkah’ or ‘Hanukkah Sameach’, which is Hebrew for ‘Happy Hanukkah’.

For more information on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, please visit: https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102911/jewish/What-Is-Hanukkah.htm

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