Hanukkah 2015 begins at sunset on Sunday, December 6 and ends at sunset on Monday, December 14
Hanukkah is a festive holiday celebrating two things: the miraculous military victory of a small band of Jews (led by Judah Maccabee) over the occupying Seleucid Greek army in the 2nd century B.C., and the miracle of the oil.
The Jews revolted against King Antiochus IV, who had persecuted them and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. After they defeated the Greek army, Judah Maccabee and his followers went to Jerusalem to rededicate the Temple. They found just enough oil to light the great candelabrum (menorah) for one day.
A miracle happened, and the oil lasted for eight days, which was enough time for more olive oil to be sanctified. This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for 8 days, and also why foods fried in oil are eaten during Hanukkah.
Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel
In Israel, Hanukkah is a festive holiday celebrated with much joy and creativity. For weeks before the holiday, young kids prepare different crafts related to Hanukkah, learn songs and stories, and during the holiday have Hanukkah parties at school and performances in after-school activities.
School is out for the week of Hanukkah, so this is a time when lots of families travel around the country. The winter is a wonderful time to hike around Israel, and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel offers excellent organized tours.
Many people visit Jerusalem and the Modi’in area, where the story of Hanukkah took place. A popular destination is the religious Jerusalem neighborhood Mea Sharim, to view the Hanukkah menorahs on display, and the Maccabean graves near Modi’in.
Unlike in the U.S. and elsewhere, Hanukkah in Israel is not a holiday of gift-giving for eight days. Presents, if any, are usually chocolates and candy, and gelt (money). Dreidels (sevivonim) are also given and collected eagerly by enthusiasts.
The hanukkiah (9-candle Hanukkah menorah) is lit in homes every night, and there are also public lightings in shopping centers, along with saying the prayers, singing Maoz Tsur (Rock of Ages) and other songs, and of course, there is a lot of indulging in oily, fried foods!
Shows and Festivals
During Hanukkah there are several big-production children’s shows that tour the country, including Festigal and the Children’s Song Festival (which, after an 18-year hiatus, started again in 2008).
In Haifa’s Wadi Nisnas neighborhood, the Hag Ha Hagim festival celebrates Hanukkah, Christmas, and Id El Adha. Taking place every Saturday in the month of December, the festival includes music and dance performances, artistic and cultural events, and lots of great street food.
Bringing Hanukkah History to Life
Hanukkah is a festive holiday everywhere, but the celebration of Hanukkah in Israel is especially significant because “Nes Gadol Haya Po” (“A great miracle happened here”).
The Maccabees’ military victory in 165 B.C. gave the Jews in Judea independence for 100 years, until the Roman emperor Pompei conquered Judea in 63 B.C. This was the last time the Jews had their own country until the re-establishment of the State of Israel over 2,000 years later in 1948.
If you’re in Israel during Hanukkah, you might want to visit the archaeological site of Bet Guvrin. There are shows and activities for the whole family during the week of Hanukkah, including a visit from “Judah Maccabee.”
When is Hanukkah?
Jewish holidays take place according to the Hebrew calendar. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, and continues for eight days until the 2nd of Tevet. To find out when Hanukkah starts according to the modern (Gregorian) calendar, use this converter.
What is the meaning of Hanukkah?
The word Hanukkah means “dedication”, for the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
The Temple’s menorah had seven branches; the Hanukkah menorah (“hanukkiah”) has nine branches: one for the shamash, or lighting candle, and eight for each day of Hanukkah.
In Israel it is common for families with children to have multiple menorahs lit every night of the holiday, as a popular activity around Hanukkah time in schools (especially kindergartens) is to decorate hanukkiot. Even my three-year-old insists on lighting her own hanukkiah!
The dreidel (sevivon) is a spinning top with four sides, a Hebrew letter on each side.
In Israel the letters are nun, gimmel, hey, and peh, for “Nes Gadol Haya Po” (“A great miracle happened here”). Outside of Israel, dreidels have the letters nun, gimmel, hey and shin, for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (“A great miracle happened there“).