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What is Hanukkah?

The Jewish Festival of Lights, based on a military victory 2,200 years ago, has grown in importance the past couple decades

Most people know Hanukkah as the Jewish holiday that begins a few weeks before Christmas.

But what exactly is Hanukkah and how did it became the Jewish community's December holiday?

Hannukkah is known as the "Festival of Lights." It starts on the 25th day of the Jewish calendar month of Kislev. That is a different day every year.

In 2012, Hanukkah begins on sundown on Saturday, Dec. 8. Last year, Hanukkah began on Dec. 20. In 2013, it begins on Nov. 27.

The holiday lasts for eight days. It's filled with blessings, games and festive foods. It celebrates the triumphs of ancient Jewish heroes, both military and religious.

According to factmonster.com, Hanukkah's tradition are tied to a victory by Jewish rebel armies known as the Maccabees nearly 2,200 years ago. The rebels had regained control of a temple on Jerusalem's Mount Moriah from Greek-Syrian rulers.

As the rebels prepared to rededicate the temple, they noticed there was only enough purified oil to kindle the temple light for a single day. However, the oil keep the light burning for eight days.

In Hebrew, the word Hanukkah means dedication. The Menorah is a candlestand with eight candles of the same height and one taller candle in the middle. The taller candle is used to light the others. The eight represent the eight days the Mount Moriah temple light stayed lit.

Many Hanukkah foods are cooked in oil. They include potato pancakes known as latkes and a jelly doughnut known as sufganiya.

Hanukkah is technically a minor Jewish holiday. However, its proximity to Christmas has elevated its status as Jewish families try to find activities in the midst of the Christian holiday season.

The holidays of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Jewish high holy day, are actually considered more important by most people.

Some Hanukkah events scheduled in the East Bay this month can be found here.

Marsha Genard December 08, 2012 at 06:39 PM
I am seventy years old and Chanukah is not any more important now than when I was a kid. I do agree that it became more important because of its closeness to christmas but that did not happen in the last two decades.
Rob Seitelman December 08, 2012 at 07:51 PM
Way to dismiss Channukah. Your use of factmonster.com instead of, oh I don't know, a Rabbi to discuss a Jewish holiday, however minor, is insulting and demeaning. Regardless of whether or not Channukah is propped up in support of the rampant commercialization of the winter holidays, Judaism deserves more respect than you give it here.
MIKE ALFORD December 09, 2012 at 06:36 AM
What In The Hell Is With This -- B.S. --- Hanukkah & Christmas Are As Real As You & I Sit Back Live And ENJOY ---- What They Stand For !
Chris J Kapsalis December 09, 2012 at 01:04 PM
I think he was just making the point there are other much more significant Jewish holidays. Those might not get the attention Chanukah does, at least on the West coast maybe, because of Chanukahs closeness to our most significant holiday, Christmas. This might offend some people. I think it is good though. It ties us together and we can calibrate together, different cultures. There are also other calibrations on or near Christmas by other cultures we mention. Some we rarely mention, even some that predate Christ. But by far our biggest holiday is Christmas. I think he did not want people to think Chanukah was also, as ours is Christmas, their biggest holiday. Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur, Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkoth, from what I read are all considered more important to most Jewish people that Chanukah. Not to take anything away from Chanukah. I actually did not know this and read a lot in the last couple days and learned more, I think, short of talking to a Rabbi. And Merry Christmas, happy New Year.
MIKE ALFORD December 09, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Now see Chris The Way You Explained It ---- Makes Sense !!
TSmith December 10, 2012 at 07:04 PM
Thank you for an informative article.
Josh Goldman December 30, 2012 at 08:07 AM
In downtown Walnut Creek at the Broadway Plaza fountain, there stands a giant Menorah, not a cross. What do you think of that?

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