12 Interesting Hanukkah Facts You Probably Didn't Know

September 03, 2021

Chag sameach or, Happy Hanukkah! As the holiday is almost upon us, we thought we should provide you with some background details about the Jewish holiday's traditions. The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem during the second century B.C.

Jews around the world commemorate the Maccabees' victory and the miracle of the oil by lighting candles each night for eight nights and eating fried food. This year, the Jewish Festival of Lights begins on November 28 and ends on December 6.

Whether it's your first time celebrating, you're expanding your holiday understanding, or you just need several interesting facts to drop when lighting the first candle, here's some cool stuff you probably didn't know about this fun winter festival.

1. There is no "wrong" way to spell Hanukkah

There is no wrong way to spell Hanukkah

There are many variations of how to spell the holiday's name in English, including Hanukkah, Hanukah, Hannukah, Chanukah, or Chanukkah. Since Hanukkah is originally a Hebrew word and there is no accurate way to directly translate the Hebrew sounds to English, as long as you’re pronouncing it right, you’re OK.

2. What is Hanukkah?

What is Hanukkah?

Remember the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem? That's where the holiday gets its name from. The Festival of Lights uses candles to honor and celebrate that rededication. In the Hebrew language, Hanukkah refers to "dedication".

3. Hanukkah never falls on the same date

Hanukkah never falls on the same date

Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th of the Hebrew lunar month of Kislev each year, but the date in the Gregorian calendar (what we're using at the moment) is different. As the lunar and solar calendars aren't in sync, Hanukkah can fall any time from late November to late December.

4. Why does Hanukkah last for eight nights?

Why does Hanukkah last for eight nights?

When the Maccabees relit the menorah at the Second Temple, they thought that they only had enough oil to burn the candle for one night. But miraculously, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to reclaim the temple.

5. Hanukkah is not really about gifts

Hanukkah is not really about gifts

Although people used to give money to each other for Hanukkah in the past, as Christmas becomes much more popular, a lot of Jews opt for giving gifts at around the same time as their Christian friends and neighbors.

6. Technically, that’s not a menorah

Technically, that’s not a menorah

A menorah is a lamp with seven candles, which was used in the ancient Temple. On Hanukkah, Jewish people light what is called a hanukkiah, a lamp with nine candles each night of the holiday. Four on either side and the candle in the middle is used to light all the others.

7. When is the best time to light the Chanukah candles

When is the best time to light the Chanukah candles?

The Chanukah candles should be lit right after nightfall because their purpose is to bring light into darkness. However, they need to be lit early enough so that people will be able to see them – reminding others of the great miracle of Hanukkah.

8. Traditional Hanukkah dishes involve a lot of oil

Traditional Hanukkah dishes involve a lot of oil

It's all because they are cooked in oil and remind us of the miracle of the legendary Hanukkah story. The most popular traditional Hanukkah recipes are potato latkes and sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts). In fact, around 17.5 million jelly donuts are consumed in Israel during Hanukkah.

9. Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish holiday

Hanukkah is not the most important Jewish holiday

Because the holiday falls near Christmas, it’s commonly believed to be the most important holiday in Jewish tradition, but it’s indeed not. Other Jewish holidays like Passover and Rosh Hashanah are much more important in the traditional religious sense.

10. Children win gelt by playing dreidels

Children win gelt by playing dreidels

A dreidel is a spinning top with four sides, each marked with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. All players begin with an equal number of game pieces and spin the dreidel once during their turn - then depending on which side is facing up, they either win or lose varying amounts of gelt.

11. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah occasionally overlap

Thanksgiving and Hanukkah occasionally overlap

Because the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars don’t align perfectly, sometimes an early Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving. When the two holidays happened at the same time in 2013, it was called "Thanksgivukkah". The next Thanksgivukkah will be in 2070.

12. An astronaut once celebrated Hanukkah from space with festive socks

An astronaut once celebrated Hanukkah from space with festive socks

On the first night of Hanukkah 2019, NASA astronaut Jessica Meir tweeted a photo of her feet in some nontraditional but festive blue, neon green, and purple socks. It’s not always usual that a Hanukkah greeting comes from 408 kilometers above the Earth’s surface.

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Closing Thoughts

The Festival of Lights is fast approaching, which means it's time to start settling in, grabbing your candles, and getting ready to discover more about the eight crazy nights of the Jewish holiday called Hanukkah. Hopefully, the Hanukkah facts above can give you some inspiration on how to celebrate one of the most popular festivals in the Jewish calendar this year. Happy Hanukkah!