As Hanukkah approaches its end this year, it’s important to take the time to learn about the history of the holiday and how Jewish people have historically celebrated during these eight days!


December 26, 2022

The Spelling

For the longest time, there has been an age-old disagreement about the spelling of the Jewish holiday. While some spell it Chanukah, or Chanukkah, others may prefer to spell it as Hanukah or Hanukkah. This continues in an ongoing cycle as there are sixteen unique ways to spell the holiday! Although there is no concurrent way to spell the holiday, the name is interpreted as the “Festival of Lights,” or “Dedication,” as its Hebrew meaning.

The History

A long time ago Antiochus, a harsh monarch of the Greek Kingdom, banned Judaism. Greek troops were assembled in Jewish villages to force them to believe in Pagan beliefs and ordered them to consume pig flesh. These acts are prohibited for Jews since they only believe in one God and typically keep kosher.

The Maccabees, a group of devastated Semitic people, were so dissatisfied with Greek culture that they refused to integrate as others had. They staged a revolt, aided by a group of devoted supporters, and finally beat the Greek commander and his army, winning the war. The Jews rejoiced after their triumph and regained the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple. They discovered a single jar of oil, sufficient to light the menorah for one day, but the oil lasted for eight days. This was a miracle and thus the holiday was born!


The lighting of the menorah each evening is the most important Hanukkah custom. A menorah is a candelabra with eight branches and a stand for the shamash, a servant candle used to light the other eight candles. On the first evening, one candle is lit, and the next candle is lit on each successive evening for eight days.

Food and Celebration

During Hanukkah, fried meals or oil-fried sweets are commonly consumed. This comprises, among other things, of potato pancakes (latkes), kugel, rugelach, and doughnuts (sufganiyot). Hanukkah gelt, which is delivered in the shape of chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, is given to many youngsters. Manufacturers also purposely make them appear as though they are money/gold coins and are contained within little pouches.

During the holiday, songs are also frequently sung, along with other various traditional activities. One such activity involves a dreidel—a four-sided top that children use to play a game. A Hebrew letter appears on either side of the top, forming the beginnings of the phrases in the phrase ‘Nes Gadol Haya Sham,’ which means ‘A Great Miracle Happened There.' Each dreidel is labeled with a distinct Hebrew letter (nun, gimmel, hey and shin).

Hanukkah is a memorable occasion where families are able to get together and celebrate. James Madison High School community has a large Jewish population, and to all who celebrated I hope that you had a magnificent holiday.