Hanukkah or Chanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It dates back to two centuries before the beginning of Christianity.
The festival begins on the 25th day of Kislev and is celebrated for eight days. In the western calendar Hanukkah is celebrated in November or December.
The word Hanukkah means rededication and commemorates the Jews’ struggle for religious freedom.
The festival marks the phenomenal victory of a group of Jews called the Maccabees over the Syrian Greeks, the most powerful army of the ancient world.
At the end of the three-year war, the Maccabees recaptured Jerusalem and rededicated the temple.
When the Maccabees rededicated the temple, they discovered a single cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest still intact.
When they came to light the eight-branched temple candelabrum, the menorah, they had enough oil to last only a day.
But the menorah miraculously stayed alight for eight days. This became known as the miracle of the oil.
Lighting the Menorah
It is because of this miracle that candles are lit from right to left during Hanukkah.
On day one, the first candle is lit; on the second night Jews light two candles, and the pattern continues. By the eighth night, all eight candles are alight. They are lit from a separate candle, the Shamash or servant candle.
During Hanukkah Jews follow simple religious rituals in addition to their regular daily prayers from the Siddur, the Jewish prayer book.
They recite three blessings during the eight-day festival. On the first night, they recite three and on subsequent nights they say the first two.
The blessings are said before the candles are lit. After the candles are lit, they recite the Hanerot Halalu prayer and then sing a hymn.