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Happy Chanukkah or Hanukkah or Chanuka or Hanukah or…..

…..…you get the idea.


by Ani K. (goddessani)



What is it and why is it spelled so many ways??

Let’s start by telling you what it is NOT.  It is NOT the Jewish Christmas (which doesn’t make sense on so many levels but whatever).   Unlike Christmas, it doesn’t fall on the same day every year.  The Judaic calendar is lunar based (13 months) and Chanukkah falls on the 25th day in the month of Kislev, which can fall anywhere between late November and late December.  Last year it started on December 2nd and this year it starts on December 21st.   All Jewish holidays begin at sunset of the day before, so the first candle will be lit on December 20th.

Chanukkah means  “dedication” and commemorates the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E after Judah Maccabee removed the pagan statuary.

In 168 B.C.E. the Temple was taken over by Syrian-Greek soldiers.   Because they feared reprisal if they fought back, the Jewish people left it alone.  In 167 B.C.E., the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made it punishable by death to observe Judaism.

The rebel Jewish Maccabee tribe regained control of the Temple in 165 B.C.E.   In order to cleanse the Temple that had been spiritually defiled by others, the Jewish troops wanted to burn ritual oil in the Temple’s menorrah for eight days.   However, they discovered there was only enough oil for one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple.  Once they lit the menorah, the oil lasted the full eight days.  Chanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates this.

Menorrahs , Latkes and Dreidels – Oh My!

A menorrah (or, more appropriately a hanukkiyah) is a candelabrum that holds 9 candles.  One sits higher than the others and holds the shamash, or helper candle.  It lights the other candles but is set apart from them.  Each night, beginning on the right hand side, a candle is lit until on the 8th night, all 8 candles are lit.   Specific prayers are said during the lighting ceremony.

Chanukkah is actually a very minor holiday.  It has grown in spectacle in the last few years.  I have no way of verifying this, but in my mind it became bigger with TV.  Once the stations decided to become more PC and started mentioning Chanukkah, it seems as if it’s become bigger and bigger.   In my own household, we’ve tried to keep it small.  We gift our sons with gifts each night but the most expensive gift (usually given on the eighth night) costs no more than $25.   We know others that spend more and some people who give no gifts.

While the first night is considered the most holy, a tradition begun in my family as I was growing up and that I’ve tried to continue is to have friends, both Jewish and Christian, over on 8th night.  I’m not sure why my family started on that night but I think the hanukkiyah is the prettiest that night with all the candles burning.  We play a version of the White Elephant game wherein I ask all guests to bring a wrapped gift that costs no more than $1.  Even before the advent of Dollar Stores, it is amazing what you can find!

During Chanukkah, children often play with a dreidel which is a four sided top.  On each side of the dreidel, there is a Hebrew letter.  During the time the Syrian-Greeks had taken over, Jews were not allowed to openly practice their religion.  When they would gather, they would bring along a dreidel.  If soldiers appeared, they would pull out the dreidel and it would look as if they were playing a game.  Jewish children still play as a remembrance of this time.  Each Hebrew letter Nun, Gimmel, Hay and Pey stand for the Hebrew phrase, “Nes Gadol Haya Po” which means “A great miracle happened here.”  Children play with gold wrapped chocolate coins, called gelt.    Everyone starts with an equal portion of gelt.  When the dreidel is spun, you must do something according to the Hebrew letter that lands upright.

Nun (nichts) means “nothing”.  The spinner loses their turn and passes the dreidel to the next person.

Gimmel (ganz is Yiddish for everything) and the spinner gets everything in the pot.

Hey (halb) means half so the spinner gets half of everything in the pot.

Shin or Shem (shtel) stands for pay and the spinner must add another gelt to the pot.

When you run out of gelt, you’re out of the game.  But as I was growing up, we all had to resettle at the end of the game and we all ended up with whatever we had started with!


One of the yummiest ways to celebrate is with our special foods!  Latkes (a fried potato and onion pancake served with applesauce) and sufganiyot (a jelly filled doughnut, often covered in powdered sugar) are traditional treats.   They are both fried foods to remind us of the miracle of the holiday.

So why all the different spellings of Chanukkah?  Since its not an English word, there is no direct translation from the Hebrew to English.  Where I was brought up, we spelt it Chanukkah (the CH is pronounced like the Scottish word loch).  So that is the common spelling to me.  But for others, it is spelled without the C, with only one K, no H on the end, etc.  All forms are considered correct!




My First Menorah by Salina Yoon


World of Festivals: Hanukkah by D. Rose & A. Clark


The Very Best Hanukkah Gift by Joanne Rocklin


Latkes and Applesauce: A HannukahStory by Fran Manushkin

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8 Responses to “Happy Chanukkah or Hanukkah or Chanuka or Hanukah or…..”

  1. Jerelyn H. (I-F-Letty) says:

    Well done.

  2. Jasmine S. (citygrrl) , says:

    A wonderful post. Thanks for taking the time to explain!

  3. Wendeline (onebooknerd) says:

    Thanks Ani for giving us all the history and explanations. Great post!

  4. Rose H. (mathrose) says:

    Also don’t forget “Just Enough Is Plenty,” one of my favorite childrens’ Chanukkah books growing up. I am from a Catholic family, but my mom was always very eager to acquaint us with other traditions, and this was our favorite book this time of the year.
    Thanks for the great post!

  5. Cynthia M. (clariail) , says:

    Thanks Ani for the post. It was interesting and I learned a few things.

  6. Robin K. (jubead) says:

    Wonderful Blog. Happy Chanukkah

  7. Joan B. (namaste-joan) says:

    Beautiful post, good explanation. I would not have been able to say it so succintly.

  8. Mark says:

    Good summary. I would only add that the latkes and donuts are fried in oil, actually almost anything fried in oil qualifies, since it’s the burning of the oil that is to remind us of the miracle.

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