Chanukah: A Primer

The Jewish holiday of Chanukah starts tonight, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to answer some common questions people ask about the holiday.

Common Questions About Chanukah:

  1. Is it spelled Hanukah, Hannukah, or Chanukah? There really isn’t any right answer to this, although my spell check function seems to prefer “Hanukah”.  Basically you’re trying to write a Hebrew word with the English alphabet, so there is room for interpretation. The first sound in the word Hanukah is a guttural H sound, so many people transcribe that with a “ch”.
  2. Hanukah is like Christmas right? No. No it’s really not. Of all the Jewish holidays Hanukah is a fairly minor one. (My theory is people only know about it because of the proximity to Christmas on the calendar.) It celebrates a fight for religious freedom and a miracle that occurred, not a messianic birth.
  3. So what is Hanukah about? While fighting the Syrian-Greek rulers for religious freedom, the Holy Temple was desecrated. Upon its rededication, it was discovered that there was only enough special oil to light the menorah for one night and it would take eight days to get more. The small amount of oil lasted all eight days until more arrived. (That’s the miracle.)
  4. Is it a menorah or a hanukkiah? So technically the candelabra (although it burned oil and not candles) in the Holy Temple was called the menorah and had 7 branches (6 plus a center one). The modern Hanukkah menorah (with 8 branches plus a center branch) is a hanukkiah. People tend to use the term menorah for both though. I do.
  5. Do you get presents every night? Just the first night? It really varies from family to family. Some families give presents each night, others give just one big present. Frankly, we don’t want our kids to concentrate on the gifts instead of the religious significance of the holiday, so in past years we really haven’t given them any presents except for maybe some extra candy. The grandparents are more than happy to fill in that gap.

About Lindsey

Crochet & Knit Designer behind PoetryinYarn.com, Math Teacher, Mom
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2 Responses to Chanukah: A Primer

  1. Vanessa says:

    What would the “bigger”/more important holiday be? Is it Rosh Hashanah or Passover? I’ve always found it interesting to learn about how different cultures (past and present) celebrate the darkness of winter and the coming light of spring. Within Christianity, that celebration is Advent with Christmas being the (alleged) birth of Christ/birth of the Church.

    Of course the whole idea of Christmas was taken from the Roman celebration of Saturnalia. Thanks, Emperor Constantine!

  2. Lindsey says:

    Any holiday that has work restrictions I would consider “bigger” and more important: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Passover, Shavuot. All of those holidays have there origins somewhere in the first 5 books (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy), whereas Chanukah (and Purim) are later additions.

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