Hanukkah

In this post, we give you comprehensive and practical information for Hanukkah. We gathered all you need to know about this holiday and arranged it to be easy to understand and follow.

We added links to valuable resources, which will make the content useful and engaging. You can find recipes, coloring pages, worksheets, and premium Hanukkah teaching resources.

We did our best to cover all the essentials of this holiday so that this post will serve you in many ways. If you find this post useful or have some thoughts to share, please let us know in the comments section below.

Table of Contents

What is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is a Jewish lights festival, celebrated for eight consecutive days.
The meaning of Hanukkah in Hebrew is “Dedication.” That’s why this holiday is also called The Feast of Dedication. Hanukkah doesn’t appear in the Jewish bible “Torah” but does appear in the First Book of Maccabees.

When Hanukkah is celebrated?

Hanukkah is celebrated between the end of November and late December.
In the Hebrew Calendar, it is on the 25th of Kislev.

Hanukkah dates in the calendar

Hanukkah dates for 10 Years

2020 – December 10 – December 18
2021 – November 28 – December 6
2022 – December 18 – December 26
2023 – December 7 – December 15
2024 – December 25 – January 2
2025 – December 14 – December 22
2026 – December 4 – December 12
2027 – December 24 – January 1
2028 – December 12 – December 20
2029 – December 1 – December 9
2030 – December 20 – December 28

Hanukkah Story

The story of Hanukkah begins with the reign of Alexander the Great in the years 356BC – 323BC. Alexander ruled over – Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, yet enabled the lands under his control to keep their faiths and retain a certain degree of autonomy.

In the first 160 years after the quiet takeover of Judea, by Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Greeks gradually allowed their cultural influence to take over the Jewish population. The urban elite of Jerusalem has adopted the Greek language, their clothes, and their manners, including the pursuit of sports, an unfamiliar game for them until then.

While the military has always appreciated physical strength and combat skills, the Greeks have made it a purpose in itself, creating competitions where the fastest / strongest / most talented have been honored. They built a sports stadium south of the Temple in Jerusalem, where young Jews, including priests, competed.

The Greek culture was modern, enlightened, scientific, and universal, while Judaism was recognized as outdated, tribal, and restrictive. 

At that time, adopting the Greek lifestyle was a precondition for material success and cultural progress. As Paul Johnson, the historian wrote: “Acceptance of Greek culture was a passport to upper-class citizenship, as would later be Christianity” [A History of the Jews].

Needless to say, not all Jews were in favor of this lifestyle, however as long as they were allowed to continue to study and keep the Torah, they accepted the Greek rule.

All this changed in 167 BC when the Greek King Antiochus IV Epiphanes forbade the observance and the study of the Torah. Violating this rule entailed the death penalty.

Hanukkah - Antiochos IV Epiphanes | Planerium

Greek army forces entered the village of Modi’in, ordering residents to sacrifice a pig to a Greek idol’s statue. Although it was a forbidden act for Jews, a Greek Jew got up from the same city and wanted to do it anyway.

As he was about to raise the pig sacrifice, Matityahu stabbed him with his sword and killed the Greek inspiration. After the explanation, he turns to the audience and announces: “Who among you fears the Lord, and who is the Lord to me!” – Everyone who fears the word of God who will stand by my side and fight.

Mattathias and the apostate

Those who join Matityahu and his five sons – Judah, Eleazar, John, Jonathan, and Simon – make their way towards the mountains, assuming the Greeks return to take revenge on the city. In the mountains, they organize a guerrilla army, appointed mainly by his son, Judah. Yehuda wins the title “Maccabi,” which means “the hammer” (Macbeth), and which later became a ‘Warriors’ slogan at that time.

We do not know the size of the Maccabean army, but the most optimistic estimate does not exceed 12,000 men. This tiny force goes into battle, against a Greek army with 40,000 warriors!

In addition to numerical superiority, the Greeks were professional warriors – they had equipment, were well trained, and had a herd of war elephants at their disposal, which constituted the tanks of the ancient world. 

The Jews, on the other hand, were significantly inferior in number, barely trained, and equipped, but what they lacked in training and equipment was made up for by their resilience.

Most of the battles occur at the foot of the mountains leading from the coastal plain to Jerusalem. The Greeks try to march their forces up the wadis leading to the mountain area but in vain. The roads from the lowlands to the mountain are limited, and only at some points can the Greeks make their way upwards. These were the places where the Maccabees choose to ambush them and attack them.

Nowadays, when we read the Maccabees’ story, it seems that these are short events, which took place over several weeks but in practice, it was a matter of twenty-five years of warfare and many casualties for both sides.

After the first three years since the revolt began, the Jews succeed in reconquering Jerusalem. They find a filthy and corrupt temple, which has become a place where pigs are sacrificed on its altar. When they return to the temple, the first thing they do is light a replacement Menorah (after the Greeks melted down the actual Menorah).

A Reconstruction of the Menorah of the Temple
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But unfortunately, there was only one small jug of oil, which was still sealed with the High Priest’s special seal. They use this oil to light the lamp, and miraculously it was enough for eight days until a fresh oil was sent to the temple.

The Maccabees purify the temple and ordain it on the 25th of Kislev – the Hebrew date for the beginning of the eight days of Hanukkah’s holiday.

The Second Jerusalem Temple Model - Taken by Larry Koester
https://www.flickr.com/photos/larrywkoester

Hanukkah commemorates two types of miracles:

    1. The victory of the few and weak Jews over the Greeks.
    2. The spiritual victory of Jewish values over those of the Greeks.

Hanukkah Traditions

    • Each day of the entire eight days of Hanukkah, candlelights are lighted on the Hanukkah menorah (Hanukkiah).
    • Reciting three prayers
    • Singing Hanukkah special songs
    • Eating treats fried in oil, such as Latkes and Sufganiyot.
    • Giving children Hanukkah gelt
    • Playing with a four-sided Dreidel

Hanukkah Menorah

Hanukkah menorah, also called Hanukkiah, is a candelabra designed especially for the Hanukkah candlelights ritual. The Hanukkah menorah contains places for a total of nine candles, one for every evening, plus the “shamash” or the assistant candlelight.

Menorah is the Hebrew word for a lamp.
It mainly describes the seven-branched candlestick utilized in the old Temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, a hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah, is a menorah. Every Hanukkiah is a menorah, but not every menorah is a hanukkiah.

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Menorah
Hanukkah Menorah - Nine branched Menorah | Planerium
Hanukkiah

Hanukkah Menorahs can be made from any non-flammable materials. They are also available in a wide range of sizes and shapes. Lighting the candles is Hanukkah’s most central ritual. One candle burned each night of the eight-night holiday till it is ablaze with light on the 8th night.

Hanukkah candles

During Hanukkah, on each of the eight evenings, candles are lit in a ‘Hanukkiah.’ There is special ninth candlelight called the ‘shamash’ or servant candle, which uses to light the other candles. The ‘Shammash’ is often in the center of the other candle lights and has a more significant position.

On the first evening, one candlelight. On the second evening, two candles light until the eighth evening, where all eight candles burn. When lighting the candles, there are three prayers to recite:

    1. “L’hadlik Ner” – To light a candle – A general blessing over candles.
    2. “She-asah Nisim” – Thanking God for making miracles to our ancestors.
    3. “She-Hekhianu” – Thanking God for reaching this day of the year.

Hanukkah Candles should burn at least half an hour.
The Hanukkah menorah is placed in the front home window of residences so people passing can see the lights and keep in mind Hanukkah’s tale.

How to light the menorah?

You place the candles from right to left and lighting them using the Shamash, from left to right. The menorah candles must not be used for other purposes other than lighting the menorah, and you light the candles only with the Shamash.

How To Light Menorah - Hanukkah Poster | Planerium

To fulfill all the eight nights with burning candlelights, you need 44 candles:

First evening – One candle and one Shamash – Two
Second evening – Two candles and one Shamash – Three
Third evening – Three candles and one Shamash – Four
Fourth evening – Four candles and one Shamash – Five
Fifth evening – Five candles and one Shamash – Six
Sixth evening – Six candles and one Shamash – Seven
Seventh evening – Seven candles and one Shamash – Eight
Eighth evening – Eight candles and one Shamash – Nine

2+3+4+5+6+7+8+9 = 44

Hanukkah foods

Potato Pancakes

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Latkes or Potato pancakes are shallow-fried pancakes.
You make these tasty pancakes from grated potato and a binding component such as egg or applesauce with grated garlic or onion and some flavoring. The meal is occasionally made from mashed potatoes to make pancake-shaped croquettes.

The Hebrew name of one latke is “Leviva.”
Most latkes are crispy little potato pancakes that serve with apple sauce or sour cream during the eight days of Hanukkah.
The reason for eating Hanukkah’s latkes is to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days and nights in the holy temple.

If you wish to make the delicious potato pancakes by yourself, we found this step by step and easy recipe, how to make latkes at home.

Brisket

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Brisket is a part of beef from the bust or lower breast.
If you plan to prepare the Brisket yourself, then keep reading to understand how to treat this part of the meat.

The brisket muscle mass includes the surface and the deep bust.
Since cattle don’t have collar bones, this muscle mass supports 60% of the cattle’s body weight. Thus, it requires a considerable amount of connective tissue, so this meat must be prepared correctly to soften it.

To make a good brisket, you need a slow cooking technic.
Here is an excellent recipe for a slow cooker beef brisket with BBQ sauce.

Kugel

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Kugel is a Jewish dish made of noodles, eggs, a dairy fat, like butter, cheese, and sugar. Although the kugel is very simple to make, there are many variations of it. Soon as you start with one and like it, you can develop your style and unique taste. Here is one classic Jerusalem Kugel you can’t fail with it.

Sufganiyot

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Sufganiyah is one of Hanukkah’s most known signs in terms of traditional food, and if you haven’t eaten one yet when you do, you’ll understand all the buzz.

Sufganiyah is a round jelly doughnut consumed in Israel and worldwide on the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. The doughnut is deep-fried in oil, full of jam or custard, and after that topped with powdered sugar.

The doughnut recipe came from Europe in the 1500s, and by the 1800s was called a Berliner in Germany. Polish Jews called it a “Ponchik,” fried the doughnut in schmaltz rather than fat because of kashrut laws. Polish Jewish immigrants brought the “Ponchik” to Israel. Then It called “Sufganiyah” based on Talmud’s description of “Spongy dough.”

Want to make Sufganiyah by yourself? Then check out this recipe.

Chocolate Babka

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A babka is a sweet, knotted bread or cake originated from the Jewish communities in Poland and Ukraine.

Today it is popular in Israel as well as in other places in the Jewish diaspora.
Preparing the babka requires a yeast-leavened dough rolled out and spread, then filled with either chocolate, cinnamon, fruit, or cheese.

In the end, it is rolled up and braided before baking.
If you’re not afraid of playing with yeast, follow this recipe, and you’ll get excellent results. For a non-dairy version, try replacing the butter with high-quality coconut oil. Click here to get it.

Hanukkah Colors

The typical colors of Hanukkah are Black, white, yellow, gold, silver, and blue.
Black represents the dark periods’ Jews had to go through before the rededication of the second temple. White represents peace, Yellow represents the light, gold, and silver represent merit.

Blue and white were Judah’s colors, where white represented the peace and blue the heavens. Blue is related to the skies, reality, ingenuity, and belief. Blue and white Hanukkah candles also popular in different locations.

Hanukkah for kids

Hanukkah Gelt

Hanukkah gelt refers to money given as presents throughout the Hanukkah. It is typically offered to youngsters and sometimes educators, commonly combined with the game of Dreidel.

In the 20th century, sweet suppliers started offering Hanukkah-themed delicious chocolate “coins” covered in gold or silver foil, as a replacement or addition to real coins gifts.

Hanukkah Gelt Coin Covered | Planerium
Hanukkah Gelt Coin Half Covered | Planerium
Hanukkah Gelt Coin Uncovered | Planerium

Dreidel

A dreidel is a pointed, four-sided spinning-top that rotates on its tapered base. Dreidels are typically made of plastic or wood. The name in Hebrew pronounced “Sevivon,” which comes from the word “Turn” in Hebrew.

Hanukkah’s story tells us that dreidels are dates back to the Greek-Syrian ruling days, which ignited the Maccabean revolt that ended in the Hanukkah miracle.

Studying the Torah during these days was considered as a crime penalized by death. The Jewish kids had to hide in caves to learn, and when a Greek patrol would approach, the kids would pull out their dreidels and pretend to be playing.

What is the meaning of each letter on the dreidel?

Two Dreidels with the letters Shin, Nun, Gimel, and Hey | Planerium
Two Dreidels with the letters Peh, Gimel, and Hey | Planerium

In Hebrew each side of the dreidel has a different letter with a specific meaning:

• The letter ‘Nun’ (נ) stands for ‘Nes’ – Miracle.
• The letter ‘Gimel’ (ג) stands for ‘Gadol’ – Large.
• The letter ‘Hae’ (ה) stands for ‘Hayah’ – Was.
• The letter ‘Peh’ (פ) stands for ‘Poh’ – Here. (For those resides inside Israel)
• The letter ‘Shin’ (ש) stands for ‘Sham’ – There. (For those resides outside Israel)

Combine all letters, and you’ll get “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” meaning a great miracle occurred there, or a great miracle happened here for those resides inside Israel.

How to Play Dreidel

Preparations:

• You need at least two players
• Each player gets 10 gelts
• Each player gives 1 gelt to a shared pot

The first player spins the Dreidel and follow the rules for each letter the Dreidel falls.
* In the Yiddish language, the letters have different meaning to serve the rules of the game.

• The letter ‘Nun’ (נ) stands for ‘Nisht’ – Nothing  >>  Do nothing.
• The letter ‘Gimel’ (ג) stands for ‘Gantz’ – Everything.  >>  You get everything.
• The letter ‘Hae’ (ה) stands for ‘Helb’ – Half.  >>  You win half the pot.
• The letter ‘Shin’ (ש) stands for ‘ Shtel’ – Put In.  >>  You give back one gelt.
(The ‘Peh’ holds the same meaning in Israel)

Whenever the pot got empty, all players must contribute one gelt.
Any player who cannot contribute gelts, must leave the game.
The winner is the one who’s left alone where all the other players cannot contribute any gelt.

How to Make Dreidel?

If you want an enjoyable craft activity for your kids, let them build and design their dreidels. We created these two dreidel templates, especially for easy cut and glue, one with the letter “Pey” and the other with the letter “Shin.” Click the images for free prints.

Hanukkah Coloring Pages and Worksheets

Here you will find our original coloring pages and worksheets for Hanukkah. These resources primarily designed for the primary grades. You can print any of these coloring pages and worksheets for free! Yes, you read it correctly, totally free.

Click on each of the images you want to print, and you’ll get to the resource page, where you can print. You can always return to this page to print more or navigate to the same category from the main menu.

Hanukkah Teaching Resources

Our premium teaching resources for Hanukkah are original. They consist of various teaching activities for students in primary grades and teachers. You can find printable memory games, Sudoku, patterns, activity pages, clipart, and posters for class decoration.

All teaching resources come with instructions and are easy to use.
Prices are very affordable. If you sign up before purchase, you’ll automatically join the Planerium Rewards Program and get a 1$ discount and additional reward points you can use on future purchases.

Hanukkah Gift Ideas

Every item in this section carefully selected by Planerium. We may earn a commission on some of the items you choose to buy.

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A gift card is an excellent choice for those who can’t decide what to buy or remembered too late. Load it with any amount and send it to your beloved ones.

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The perfect gift for Hanukkah, a set of a full-size menorah with 44 candles, a Hanukkah guide booklet, 6 Dreidels, and a sack of quality chocolate gelt.

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Let the little ones be familiar with Hanukkah trough Elmo’s eyes. This edition is a durable board book with 12 pages and recommended for ages 1-3.

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Handcrafted candles for Hanukkah menorah. Pack of 45 premium candles to make the right impression with your gift. Two versions available, Blue & White and Rainbow.

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Every kid loves to color, and what could be a better gift than this 50 crayons pack, each crayon protected in a container, twist up to color and down to store. Non-toxic for ages 3-99.

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If you are curious about the Israeli cuisine, that’s the book for you! food and health enthusiasts will love it as a gift. 120 recipes from a unique cross-cultural perspective.

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Quality wooden dreidels medium size in a pack of 30 dreidels. A fantastic gift for large families with many kids, or for the classroom.

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Hershel and Hanukkah Goblins is a great fantasy book that will fuel kids’ imagination. Hershel acts as the hero, risking himself to save a small village from the Goblins. Perfect for ages 4-8. The story is full of Hanukkah elements.

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For those appreciate decorations, this exceptionally detailed Hanukkah menorah ornament could be the perfect gift. This menorah ornament comes packed in a box for easy gift-giving.

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Hanukkah is a happy holiday, and it’s an excellent time to wear the Blizzard Bay Men’s Ugly sweater is a funny sweater with lights. This sweater can be a huge hit among family, friends, or work events.

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