The starting date on the western calendar varies from year to year, but usually falls between late November and late December.
Hanukkah is the preferred spelling, but it can also be spelled Chanukah or Chanukkah.
The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication.
Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication and Feast of the Maccabees.
Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas, but often children receive gifts, especially in areas where Jewish and Christian children are in close contact.
Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians and the re-dedication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem around 165 BC.
Re-dedication was necessary because Seleucid king of Syria,
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had defiled the Temple by having an altar to Zeus placed there.
When the Maccabees began preparing the Temple for the re-dedication, they found that they only had enough oil to light the Temple for one night. It ended up lasting for eight days, until the delivery of new consecrated oil. Candles are lit each night of Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle.
On the first evening, one candle is lit in a special candelabra called a menorah or hanukkiyah. Beginning on the second night, one candle is added every night until the total reaches eight on the last night.
The candles are lit by a separate candle called a shamash, which is lit first and then is used to light the other candles.
The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but are lit from left to right.
One symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel. A game is played with this four-sided spinning top. Before the Maccabean Revolt, it was illegal for people under the rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes to read the Torah. When soldiers came through, Jews pretended
to play a gambling game involving tops.
Traditional Hanukkah foods, such as the latkes, or potato pancakes, are fried in oil, as another way to incorporate the memory of the Maccabees into the holiday.