Candelabrum by pxhere

The beloved and joyous Jewish holiday of Hanukkah/Chanukah, or Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. It is also referred to as the “Festival of Lights.” It usually occurs in December, when the days are the shortest in the northern hemisphere. Here is a quick summary of this ancient holiday explained.

What is this holiday? Hanukkah/Chanukah (which in Hebrew translates to “dedication”)  is an eight day celebration of the victory of a small band of Jewish freedom fighters called the Maccabees who defeated Antiochus’ mighty army, and the phenomena that happened within the temple. The freedom fighters were surrounded and had only enough oil to light the temple for one day. Somehow, the supply of oil miraculously lasted for eight days, until new oil could be prepared. Since then, these eight days have been designated as festival days of thanksgiving in which it is forbidden for observers to fast.

When does it occur?  Hanukkah starts on the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev. This year, Hanukkah/Chanukah begins at sundown on Sunday, December 2 and lasts until Monday December 10, 2018.

How is this holiday observed? On each night of this “festival of lights,” the triumph of light over darkness is symbolized by lighting an eight-branched candelabrum called a menorah accompanied by a special prayer. Learn more about how to light the menorah by clicking on this link. Gifts are often exchanged on these nights, along with playing a dreidel. A dreidel is a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side that spells an acronym for “a great miracle happened there.” Partaking in special foods including potato pancakes called latkes and Israeli jelly donuts called sufganiyot is customary.

Why are there two names? Many people are familiar with the holiday being referred to as Hanukkah. Some people recognize it as Chanukah.There are several variations of the spelling. The Hebrew word is pronounced with a guttural, “kh” sound, kha-nu-kah, not tcha-new-kah.

If you are new to celebrating the holiday and are invited to celebrate with Jewish friends, wish them a Happy Hanukkah by greeting them with “Hanukkah Sameach” (Happy Hanukkah), “Chag Sameach” (Happy Holiday).


Sharon Schweitzer and Hannah Alvarado co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, attorney, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide (Wiley 2015), now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.

Continuing her higher education at Texas State University, Hannah is set receive her Bachelor’s Degree in English, in 2019. She is a native Texan with a background in writing, sales, social media marketing and customer service. Hannah aspires to perfect her passion and craft of writing and hopes to one day become a novelist. With all the fantastic opportunities offered at Access to Culture, she is excited to be a new member of the team. Connect with her at Hannah Alvarado.