(Hah-noo-kah, translated: Festival of Lights, many alternate spellings)

"The Festival of Lights" is celebrated for eight days in winter, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Hanukkah commemorates a historic rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and celebrates religious freedom. Hanukkah is considered a festival, not a sacred holiday.

The Hanukkah Story: In 175 BCE (before common era) Antiochus IV became King of Syria, which was at the time part of the Greek Empire. The land of Israel, then known as Judea, was ruled by Syria. Antiochus tried to force the Jews to assimilate into Greek society and abandon Judaism. He ordered his generals to put to death those found observing Jewish laws and rituals. The Greek soldiers destroyed synagogues, burned Torah scrolls, forced Jews to bow down before Greek idols, and desecrated the Holy Temple. After a three-year war led by Judah the Maccabee, Jerusalem was liberated. Wanting to reclaim and "rededicate" the temple from its defilement, the liberators could find only one small cruse of purified oil, enough to burn for one day. When they lit the temple menorah with this oil, it is said that a miracle occurred and the menorah burned for eight days. Since then, the holiday is celebrated to remember the Maccabees and their successful fight for independence and most of all, the miracle of the oil.

McGillis Celebration

At the McGillis School, we tell the story of Hanukkah, sing holiday songs, play Dreidel, and serve some traditional foods at lunch or during a Shabbat celebration. We light the Hanukkiah, a menorah that holds nine candles, during Ethics and Cultures and/or a Shabbat celebration at this time. We may enjoy holiday foods such as latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganyiot (jelly donuts).

Traditional Celebration

This festival is celebrated by families primarily with special food and lighting the Hannukkiah.

The hanukkiah, the Hanukkah lamp, is lit each night during the eight days of Hanukah. On the first night, one candle is lit, two on the second, three on the third night, and so on. Children play games with a dreidel – a four-sided top. Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter and is an acronym for "a Great Miracle Happened There." Latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) and sufganyiot (Jelly donuts popular is Israel) are customarily eaten in honor of the holiday. Although a relatively minor holiday in the context of the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah has become more visible with its usual occurrence in the month on December. Gift giving has grown in popularity -- with some families giving their children one gift for the holidays and other families giving a gift each night at candle lighting.

Synagogues may hold a party or festival during Hanukkah, and special portions are read from the Torah.