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Hanukkah

Hanukkah is the eight-day Jewish Festival of Lights that begins on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev in the Jewish calendar. This coincides with late November or December in the Gregorian calendar, which is commonly used in Germany. Hanukkah means "dedication" and is the festival held to dedicate a temple.

Historically, Hanukkah can be traced back to Judas Maccabeus' victory over the Seleucid Greeks in the second century BCE. After the Seleucid Empire had captured Judea (today part of Israel), Jews were forbidden to practice their faith under threat of death and the Second Temple in Jerusalem was desecrated and plundered.

After Judas Maccabeus and his fellow soldiers had defeated the Seleucid armies and put an end to Seleucid rule in Judea, they wanted to rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem and relight the seven-branched candelabra, or menorah. However, they only found a single flask of consecrated oil, normally enough to last a single day. As it turned out, the menorah burned for eight days, which gave them enough time to produce new sacred oil. To commemorate this miracle, one of eight candles on the eight-branched Hanukkah candelabra, the Hanukiah, is lit on each day of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is a festive celebration, but it is not one of the important Jewish holidays. It is mostly celebrated at home in the company of family and friends, who light candles and say blessings at nightfall. The Hanukiah is placed in a visible place in front of the house or in a window. The festivities include a number of traditional Hanukkah songs and even a Hanukkah game played with a spinning top called a dreidel. To recall the special role of oil in the Hanukkah miracle, foods cooked in oil are favored, including latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (a type of doughnut).

Click here for an interactive game in which you have to light Hanukiah candles in the right order.

Hanukiah
© Jewish Museum Berlin, photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld
Hanukkah cookie cutters in the shape of a dreidel, hanukkiah, Judas Maccabeus, etc.
Hanukkah cookie cutters in the shape of a dreidel, hanukkiah, Judas Maccabeus, etc.
© Jewish Museum Berlin, Photo: Jens Ziehe
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