- Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew.
- It usually takes place in December, but the dates change every year as Jewish holidays follow a lunar calendar.
- The National Menorah lit in Washington, DC, is 30 feet (9.14m) tall and requires a lift from a cherry picker to light.
The holiday commemorates the rededication of the ancient Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after a small Jewish army called the Maccabees reclaimed it from the Greek leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 164 BCE.
According to tradition, while the Jews were living under the Greek empire around 167 BCE, King Antiochus IV outlawed Judaism and desecrated the Holy Temple that stood in Jerusalem. A small Jewish army called the Maccabees led a rebellion against the Greeks and won. When they returned to the Temple to relight the ritual menorah (candelabra), they only found enough oil to last one day, but it miraculously lasted eight.
Jewish people commemorate the Maccabees’ victory and the miracle of the oil by lighting a menorah for eight nights and eating fried foods.
Other lesser-known biblical Jewish holidays, such as Sukkot and Shavuot, carry much more religious significance than Hanukkah. But because of its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah became absorbed into the widespread culture of gift-giving and holiday cheer.
The lunar calendar is shorter than the solar one, so an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar every two to three years to keep the holidays within certain agricultural seasons and times of year.
This year, Hanukkah begins the evening of November 28.
When the two holidays overlapped in 2013, the phenomenon became known as “Thanksgivukkah” complete with turkey-shaped menorahs playfully dubbed “menurkeys.” The next Thanksgivukkah will take place in 2070.
The four letters on a dreidel each stand for a Hebrew word. Outside of Israel, the letters represent a sentence that means “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the last letter is changed, changing the meaning to “a great miracle happened here.”