Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday observed over eight days and is celebrated with a nightly lighting of the menorah, as well as foods and prayer. This year, it is celebrated from the night of December 10 through December 18.

Contrary to common belief, Hanukkah isn’t actually a religious celebration. To the Jewish people, Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. The event occurred when Jews rose up against Greek-Syrian rulers in the Maccabean Revolt and drove them out of Jerusalem.

According to History Channel, Jews marked their victory by reclaiming the temple and lighting its menorah. But they only found enough pure olive oil for one day. Turned out, the flame continued flickering for eight nights, which was considered a miracle in the Jewish faith.

Every year, the celebration begins on the 25th day of Kislev, a month in the Hebrew calendar, and continues for eight days (yes, you guessed it right, because of the oil miracle).

How is it celebrated?

The Hanukkah celebration revolves around the kindling of a nine-branched menorah, known in Hebrew as the hanukiah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle, called the shamash, is used to light the others.

Jews typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah prominently in a window as a reminder to others of the very miracle that inspired this beautiful holiday.

The candle-lighting tradition that began over 2,000 years ago is rooted in perseverance and faith—two virtues that are indicative of the Jewish culture and the Jewish faith.

Aside from candles, Jews also prepare fried food. Potato pancakes and jam-filled donuts are particularly popular among Jewish households. Playing with tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts are also part of the tradition.

But because of the current global health crisis, Hanukkah celebrations are expected to be smaller this year. Family gatherings may be very intimate as it’s relatively not allowed to travel. But Hanukkah is a celebration of unity and hope. So whether families get together physically or not, the essence of the holiday doesn’t change.

Hanukkah fried donuts are called sufganiyot. (myjewishlearning.com)

So, is it Hanukkah or Chanukah?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there are actually 24 different ways to spell the holiday.

Getting the proper spelling of a Hebrew word transliterated into English is a little bit tricky and confusing, which often leads to multiple spelling options.

The Hanukkah spelling is more commonly and widely used. But Chanukah, which is also correct, is a favorite among traditionalists.

Hanukkah Message from the White House

US President Donald Trump released his official greetings for the American Jews celebrating Hanukkah this week.

Trump highlighted that this year’s observance of the Festival of Lights comes at a time when the “unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel has never been stronger.”

“Over the past four years, my Administration has stood in unwavering solidarity with the Jewish people. In recent months, we brokered historic peace deals between Israel and major Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Sunday, ushering in unprecedented opportunities for enhancing stability and prosperity in the region.”

Light at a dark time

The celebration of Hanukkah may be significantly more meaningful this year, despite the fact that large family gatherings are not likely to happen.

The US is experiencing one of its darkest times. The coronavirus pandemic has hit the country more than it did anywhere else. As of December 10, the country already record 15 million cases across all its states. And just last Wednesday, the coronavirus killed more Americans than the 9/11 terror attack did. The numbers continue to rise.

As American Jews start lighting their menorahs, it also gives light to others. The candles will symbolize hope, and maybe provide strength for those who are living in fear because of COVID-19.

With lights flickering by the windows of Jewish households right now, we all pray for a miracle.

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