Why do we celebrate Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights?

DALL·E 2023 12 12 21.30.31 A low contrast realistic banner image for a Hanukkah themed article. The scene should depict a menorah with subtly lit candles creating a serene and Why do we celebrate Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights?

Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah or the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish festival that typically falls in December. This holiday, rich in history and tradition, is celebrated by people of all ages and backgrounds, illuminating not only homes but also hearts with its profound significance.

Origin of Hanukkah

The story of Hanukkah dates back to the second century BCE in Jerusalem, during a turbulent period in Jewish history. The land was under the control of the Seleucid Empire, which attempted to forcefully Hellenize the Jewish people, leading to a significant cultural and religious conflict.

The Jewish revolt against this oppression was led by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, known as the Maccabees. This small, determined group fought against the vastly larger Seleucid army and, against all odds, emerged victorious. Following their triumph, they reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated.

The miracle of Hanukkah is centered around the rededication of the Temple. According to tradition, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which was the time needed to prepare a fresh supply. This event is considered a divine miracle and marks the basis for the Hanukkah celebration.

hanukkah lighting candles Why do we celebrate Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights?

Why Hanukkah is Celebrated?

Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate both the victory of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. It’s a time to reflect on the struggle for religious freedom, the resilience of the Jewish people, and the miracles in everyday life. The holiday resonates with universal themes of hope, faith, and perseverance, making it meaningful to people beyond the Jewish community.

How Hanukkah is Celebrated

  1. Lighting the Menorah: Central to Hanukkah celebrations is the lighting of the menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum. Each night of Hanukkah, a candle is lit using the shamash (helper candle) until all eight candles are kindled on the final night. The menorah is usually placed in a window or a prominent area as a symbol of pride and remembrance.
  2. Prayers and Songs: Special prayers, including the Hanerot Halalu and the Maoz Tzur, are recited during the lighting of the menorah. These prayers and songs celebrate the miracles and express gratitude.
  3. Playing Dreidel: A popular Hanukkah game involves spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side. These letters form the acronym for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham” (“A great miracle happened there”). The game, often accompanied by small prizes, is a fun way for children and adults to engage with the holiday’s themes.
  4. Eating Traditional Foods: Foods fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts), are eaten to symbolize the miracle of the oil. These delicious treats are a staple at Hanukkah gatherings.
  5. Gifting and Charity: It’s customary to exchange gifts during Hanukkah, especially for children. Gelt, or money, is often given to children, and charity (tzedakah) is emphasized as a way to spread kindness and help those in need.

Hanukkah’s Universal Appeal

While Hanukkah is a distinctly Jewish holiday, its themes of light overcoming darkness, the struggle for freedom, and the joy of miracles are universal. People of all ages and faiths can appreciate the message of hope and resilience that Hanukkah represents.


Hanukkah is more than just a festival; it’s a testament to the enduring human spirit in the face of adversity. As the menorah candles are lit and the familiar melodies fill homes, Hanukkah invites everyone to reflect on the miracles, both big and small, in their lives. Whether you are Jewish or not, the story of Hanukkah offers a timeless message of courage, hope, and the power of faith that resonates with people across the globe.