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What is Hanukkah? The Jewish holiday, explained

By CNN Library

Published November 30, 2018

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This year, Hanukkah begins December 2 at sunset and ends December 10, also at sunset. Its annual starting date is always sometime between late November and late December.

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On the Hebrew calendar, it begins on the eve of the 25th day of the month of Kislev.

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It is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication and Feast of the Maccabees.

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It commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians around 165 BC and the re-dedication of Jerusalem's Second Temple.

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Hanukkah is not "the Jewish Christmas."

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But often children receive gifts, especially in areas where Jewish and Christian children are in close contact.

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Re-dedication was necessary because Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, had defiled the Temple by having an altar to Zeus placed there.

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When the Maccabees began preparing the Temple for the re-dedication, they found that they only had oil to light the Temple for one night.

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It ended up lasting for eight days, until the delivery of new consecrated oil.

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Candles are lit each night of Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle.

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On the first evening, a candle is lit in a special candelabra called a menorah or hanukkiyah. After that, one candle is added every night until the total reaches eight.

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The candles are lit by a separate candle called a Shamash, which is lit first and then is used to light the other candles.

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The candles are placed in the menorah from right to left, but are lit from left to right.

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One symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel. A game is played with this four-sided spinning top.

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Traditional Hanukkah foods, such as latkes, or potato pancakes, are fried in oil, as another way to incorporate the memory of the Maccabees into the holiday.

Courtesy Daniel Spils