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Celebrating Chanukah with your loved ones

Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is the Jewish "Festival of Lights," which is a religious observance lasting eight days and nights that begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the ninth month of the Jewish calendar. Typically, the celebration of Hanukkah occurs during late November or early December, according to the Western secular calendar. The holiday is held in commemoration of the dedication of the Second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred after the Jews defeated the Syrian-Greeks during the Maccabean Revolt in 165 BC.

Chanukah Background

In the mid-2nd century BC, the Syrian-Greeks overtook the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the god Zeus. While this was deeply insulting to the Jewish people, they did not fight back against their more powerful opponents until the Syrian-Greek emperor outlawed Judaism and decreed that all Jews were to worship Greek gods. This inspired an uprising, known as the Maccabean Revolt, during which the Jews eventually ousted their Syrian-Greek oppressors and regained control of their temple.

To purify the temple, which had been defiled by the Syrian-Greeks, the Jews used a menorah, a type of oil-burning ritual candelabra, for the prescribed period of eight days. However, they found that there was only about one day's worth of oil remaining in the temple. When they decided to burn the oil anyway, it miraculously lasted the whole eight days, giving birth to the annual ritual that is still observed today.

Celebrating Chanukah

While Hanukkah is technically a minor religious observance in Judaism, it has a high profile because of its relative proximity to Christmas. The lighting of the Hanukkah candles is the definitive custom associated with the event, during which an eight-candled menorah is used. Each evening, one candle is lit, with an additional candle being lit on subsequent nights of the observance; prayers accompany the kindling of the candles.

Games and gifts are also associated with Hanukkah. The best-known Hanukkah game involves the dreidel, which is a four-sided top that children play with before or after the candle kindling observance. Monetary gifts are also typically offered, by grandparents and parents to their children and grandchildren. Traditionally, sums are small and given in coins, but larger amounts may be given if desired.

Hanukkah decorations can be religious or secular. Some households stick strictly to the menorah and religious decorations like the Star of David. Other may include secular and seasonal accessories that bear similarities to the snowflakes and glitter balls many people use to deck out their homes for Christmas.

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