Hanukkah: who, what, when and why?

In this article I am going to explain a little about Hanukkah, a holiday few people know about.

The history behind Hanukkah

Wojciech Stattler’s “Machabeusze” (“The Maccabees”), 1844

Hanukkah, a holiday celebrated by Jews around world, or as some uneducated people say, the inhabitants of Israel, has a backstory that is fairly simple. For those who are really keen on learning about why we really celebrate Hanuka, here are a couple of reasons :

The eight day event is celebrated for two distinct ‘miracles’.

  1. The victory of a greatly outnumbered army of Jews known as the Maccabees over the mighty Greek army that occupied the Holy Land. The rebellion occurred because the Greeks attempted to inflict their ways upon the Jewish population of Israel.

    cat candle hanukkah jewish menorah
    Menorah are hot… Photo: Giphy
  2. When the Maccabees liberated the Temple from the hands of the Greek invaders, they found only a small cruse (an earthenware pot or jar) of pure olive oil fit for fueling the Menorah, a seven branch sort of candelabra. The problem was,  the small amount of olive oil was supposed to burn for eight entire days and nights, which is the amount of time it takes to produce new pure oil. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days and nights.

When is it?

Many people think that, unlike Christmas, Hanukkah doesn’t have a fixed date. They are both right and wrong. On our everyday calendar, Hanukkah is celebrated from late November to late December; seems weird, right? Wrong. Hanukkah does actually have a fixed date. Its 25th day of the month of Kislev. Wait a minute, that can’t be, Kislev isn’t a month. Actually it is. Where our calendar relies only on the sun, the Hebrew calendar relies on the sun and the moon.


Photo: halfhourmeals.com

Because of its somewhat central role in the Hanukkah miracle, oil plays a huge part in the Hanukkah cuisine. Other foods eaten on Hanukkah include:

  • Latkes- fried potato pancakes best served with a sweat sauce
  • Deep fried donuts- it is completely normal to eat different variations of deep fried donuts. The most popular one is ‘sufganiot’, a donut filled with jelly (it has been sold at bake sales at our school before).
  • Dairy foods

Hanukkah, Hannukah… Chanukah? How do you spell it?

Photo: Giphy

Hanukkah is one of the weirdest words in the English language because it is not even in the English language. According to Google, Hanukkah can be spelled 16 different ways, all of which are equally correct. Here are a few:

  • Hanukkah
  • Chanukah
  • Hannukah
  • Chanuka
  • Chanukkah
  • Hanuka
  • Channukah
  • Chanukka

But why does Chanuka have so many different spellings?

Some languages simply have untranslatable words. In Hebrew, “Hanukkah” is just that: untranslatable. When it is “translated” from Hebrew, the word itself is not converted, but instead its sound is. If a five year old were to try to discern the spelling of a word, he or she would sound it out and then write down all the possibilities. So, in Hebrew, one could obtain the sound the letter “H” makes by using the letters “CH”.


Every year, in mid December, Hanukkah is celebrated. Hanukkah is a time to be with your family. So remember, for around 14 million people around the world, there are eight special days of the year. Not one day, but eight. Not a tree but a Menorah. Not Christmas but Hanukkah.

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