Sometimes called the festival of lights, Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration that brings friends and families together every year. Participants eat specific foods like potato latkes and engage in traditions such as lighting menorahs to mark the day.

While it’s true that more people are aware of Hanukkah celebrations, there are some facts that many may not be aware of. For instance, do you know there is no correct way of spelling “Hanukkah?” Read on to learn more about this and other fascinating Hanukah facts.

1. Hanukkah Is a Celebration of a Jewish Military Victory

During the century B.C., the Maccabees won a war against the Jewish rebels. To celebrate the event, they rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem for the second time. They did so to sanctify the temple after their oppressors had stained it with Zeus sacrifices, which involved pigs killing.

The Maccabees could only achieve this by lighting a Hanukkah menorah that would burn within the Jerusalem Temple forever. However, they only had pure olive oil to last a day. Miraculously, the menorah burned for 8 days, hence why the Hanukkah celebrations usually take 8 days.

2. There Is a Pattern for Lighting the Hanukkah Menorah

In Hebrew, the word menorah translates to a lamp with seven branches. However, the Hanukkah menorah has 9 similar-sized branches and a taller or shorter one (Shamash) dividing them in the middle.

When celebrating Hanukkah, the Shamash is lit first and then used to light the others from left to right. The only confusing bit, especially for starters, is figuring out where the left and right are.

3. There is No Correct Spelling for Hanukkah

Hebrew is a character-based language, while English is an alphabet-based language, making it hard for effective transliteration. This explains why we have different spellings for the Jewish celebration. You can write it as “Chanukkah, Hanukah, Hanukkah, Hannukah, or Chanukah,” and you will still be correct.

4. It Is Celebrated On Different Days

Lunisolar and Gregorian calendars are the most popular options for tracking time. Jews rely on the lunisolar format, which depends on the sun and moon’s behaviors. Gregorian calendar depends on the earth’s movement around the sun. As such, since Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration, having it on a particular day every year is impossible.

However, Hanukkah celebrations usually start on the 25th of Kislev. Hence, it mainly falls in the November or December months of the Gregorian calendar. While the holiday mostly overlaps with Thanksgiving and Christmas, there have been occasions where they have converged on the same day.

For instance, the Hanukkah celebrations in 2005 coincided with Christmas celebrations. In 2013, the holiday happened to be on the same day as Thanksgiving, or “Thanksgivukkah.”

5. Hanukkah Isn’t As Significant in the Jewish Calendar

Even though Hanukkah marks an important day for the Jews, it is not celebrated much compared to others, such as the Sukkot, Purim, and Passover. This is by no means an indication that the Jewish people do not appreciate Hanukkah; it’s just that they prefer others more.

6. President Jimmy Carter Oversaw the First Whitehouse’s Hanukkah Celebrations

Even though Christmas and other celebrations were already popular in the United States, President Jimmy Carter became the first head to lead the country into Hanukkah celebrations. On the evening of Dec 17, 1979, he arrived and prepared for the holiday at the Whitehouse’s Lafayette Square.

However, the event was not short of challenges. For instance, to shield the menorah from the wind, a narrow glass enclosure was built around it. The issue is that the covering made it hard to light the menorah with regular-sized matchsticks/lighters.

Luckily, a Jewish mother understood the Hanukkah celebration and sold 8-inch-long matches in her store. A Secret Agent located her at a Scandinavian design store and found a lighter for the menorah, and the festivities continued.

7. The World’s Longest Menorah Is In New York

The top 2 longest Hanukkah menorahs are found in New York, each measuring over 30 feet tall. One is located at the Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn, while the other is at the corner of Fifth Ave. and 59th St., Manhattan.

8. Latkes and sufganiyot Are Popular Hanukkah Treats

As with most celebrations worldwide, food is critical – latkes and sufganiyot are significant with Hanukkah. To mark the miracle of the pure olive oil that lasted 8 days rather than 1 as it ought to have, the Jews usually fry their Hanukkah food with the oil.

Both sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and latkes (potato pancakes) are usually deep-fried in olive oil and flavored. They are the staple foods for Hanukkah holidays.

9. Hanukkah Has Once Been Celebrated in Space

In 1993, Jeffrey A. Hoffman became the first person to celebrate Hanukkah in space during a mission to repair the STS-61 Hubble Space Telescope. The astronaut had traveled with an unlit menorah and lit it to mark the holiday that started on the evening of Dec 9 that year.

The event was televised from space, so those on earth got to view it. Hanukkah is one of the few celebrations that can boast of multi-verse recognition.

10. Hanukkah Means to “Dedicate”

Hanukkah originates from the Hebrew word “חנך,” which means “to dedicate.” The Maccabees wanted to return the Temple of Jerusalem to their God and celebrate their win over their oppressors. Those who celebrate Hanukkah today do so as a sign of their dedication and willingness to live by their faith.

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Last Update: September 6, 2023