How to Celebrate Hanukkah

7-Step Guide to Celebrating Hanukkah
Image: courtesy of
Article by: WikiHow

Hanukkah, a wintertime holiday in Judaism, is also known as the Jewish “festival of lights” as its focus is on lighting the eight Chanukah candles during the eight days of the festival. Although not one of the more serious holy days of the Jewish tradition, it is still traditionally celebrated with specific foods and ceremonies.

Step 1:
Learn about the holiday. Hanukkah is about God’s protection of the Israelites, and the miracles that occurred on the day.The holiday celebrates the triumph of faith and courage over military might, when a band of Israelites stood up for their right to be Jewish. They were prohibited under penalty of death from studying their sacred texts or performing important mitzvot. Their holy Temple had been defiled, and they were ordered to worship other gods. However, a small band of faithful Israelites, known as the Maccabees, rose up and defeated the invaders, reclaimed the Temple, and rededicated it to God. The eternal flame in the Temple’s great menorah (lamp stand) had to burn everything down. But the sacred olive oil needed to burn in the lamp stand took 8 days to press and purify. The Jews had only a one-day supply of oil. They decided, in faith, to light the flame anyway. And, a great miracle occurred. The jug of oil refilled itself every day with enough oil to relight the Temple’s great menorah, and this continued for 7 days, the exact time it took to prepare new oil! It is a common misconception that the oil burned continuously for 8 days. This story is even mentioned by Josephus, the first century Jewish historian.[1] Since that time, Hanukkah has been celebrated for 8 days to recall the miracle when the menorah burned for 8 days at the Temple. The main miracle of Hanukkah is the victory of the Maccabees against the most powerful army in the world.

Step 2:

Get a Hanukkiah. The most basic thing you need to celebrate Hanukkah is a 9-branched candelabra, called a Hanukkiah (or often a Menorah, although technically a Menorah is a 7-branched candelabra), and candles. Eight of the branches represent the eight nights, while the last one (at a different height, usually higher than the rest) is called the shamash or helper candle, and is used to light the rest of the candles. The Hanukkiah is usually lighted at or right after sunset.
On the first night, the shamash is lit, a blessing is recited, and the first candle is lit. The first candle occupies the rightmost place on the Hanukkiah.
Candles are placed from right to left, but lit from left to right. The candle that you light first is always the last candle that you placed on the Hanukkiah; likewise, the candle that you light last is always the first candle that you placed on the Hanukkiah.
On the second night, the shamash plus two candles are lit and so on until the eighth night, when all nine branches contain lit candles.
Traditionally, the lighted Hanukkiah is placed near a window, so that everyone passing by can remember the miracle of Hanukkah. Some families who set the Hanukkiah near the window place the candles left to right, so that they appear right to left to a passer-by.

Step 3:

Recite the blessings when you light the Hanukkiah, or Menorah. Blessings are a way of paying respect to God and to Jewish ancestors.
On the first day of Hanukkah, recite the following blessing[2]:

Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time.
Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this season.
On all subsequent nights of Hanukkah, when you light the Hanukkiah, recite the following blessing:
Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time.

Step 4:

Play dreidel. A four sided top, called a dreidel or sevivon is used to play a gambling game with small candies or nuts. Players get an equal amount of candies, and some are placed into a “pot” in the center. Players take turns spinning the dreidel. Each side of the dreidel bears a letter which tells the players whether to put in or take out candies. The game ends when someone has all the candies, or when the candies have all been eaten (usually the case in homes with small children!)

Step 5:

Give small tokens to children. Small gifts of money (gelt) are given to children on each night of Hanukkah. Chocolate coins are also popular as treats and gifts during Hanukkah. Consider giving each child a 5 dollar blank check each night to make out to the charity of their choice.
Hanukkah gifts may also be given to adults. Although Hanukkah takes place during the Christian holiday season, it is not the “Jewish Christmas,” as some have mistaken it for.
Great Hanukkah gifts for adults include beautiful Hanukkiah candles, nice cooking oil, or a Jewish cook book.

Step 6:

Eat foods cooked in oil. Hanukkah just wouldn’t be the same without the traditional latkes and applesauce. Latkes (pancakes made from shredded potatoes, onions, matzoh meal and salt) are fried in oil to crispy gold brown, then served with applesauce (and often sour cream). The frying oil reminds celebrants of the miracle of the oil. Small powdered sugar donuts, called Sufganiyot are also a popular Hanukkah treat, especially in Israel. Fried, oil-rich foods are the theme!
Additionally, dairy is consumed by many people during Hanukkah, as a way to remember the story of Judith. Judith saved her village from a conquering Syrian general by plying him with salty cheese and wine. When he passed out, she took his own sword and beheaded him, the story goes.[3] For this reason, cheesy latkes and cheesy blintzes are popular during Hanukkah.

Step 7:

Practice Tikkun Olam. Use the holiday as a chance to talk with children about what they believe in, and what it means to stand up for your beliefs. Find causes that support free speech and religious freedom, and help them to spread those messages centuries after the miracle of Hanukkah. After all, Hanukkah is the story of the Israelites fighting for religious freedom.

This article has been taken from WikiHow.

The views and opinions expressed on The Falls are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Niagara Foundation, its staff, other authors, members, partners, or sponsors.