Eight Enlightening Facts about Hanukkah (Plus a Bonus!)

Hanukkah starts this week and Jewish families around the globe are heating up the oil for delicious latkes and donuts.  Here are eight enlightening facts about the Festival of Lights (plus a bonus!).

enlightening facts about hanukah

(1) The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.” 

Following a battle victory, soldiers found the Holy Temple vandalized.  They sought to rededicate it by lighting the eternal flame. However, there was only a one-day supply of consecrated oil, so a messenger headed out to restock the inventory.  His delivery took eight days, and miraculously, the original one-day supply lasted until his return.

(2) A seven-night miracle

Although we celebrate Hanukkah for eight nights, technically the miracle was only seven nights. Remember, they already knew they had a one-day supply of oil, so that first night was kind of expected.

(3) A postponed party

The holiday may not actually be about oil (PLOT TWIST!).  Some scholars believe that due to the war, Jewish soldiers had to delay their celebration of another eight-day festival, Sukkot.  So, the first Hanukkah may just have been a postponed party.  Learn more here.

(4) Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas.

While meaningful, Hanukkah is actually a minor holiday in the Jewish faith.  However, the two holidays tend to fall around the same time of the year, so for some families, secular traditions may overlap.  Christmas is 25th of December on the Gregorian (civil) calendar and Hanukkah starts the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.  Because the two calendars don’t line up perfectly, the first night of Hanukkah will shift from year to year on the civil calendar.    

(5) Hanukkah in pop culture

Pop culture references to the connection between the two holidays include “Hanukkah Harry” (Saturday Night Live, 1989), the “Holiday Armadillo” (Friends, 2000), and “Chrismukkah” (FOX series “The O.C.”, 2003). These are not real things. (Thanks TV show writers!)   

dreidel hanukkah facts

(6) Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel

A popular Hanukkah activity is the gambling game dreidel.  The four sides of the dreidel each have a Hebrew letter (Nun, Gimel, Hey, Shin).  These letters represent the game action that takes place when you land on that letter (Nothing, Get all, take Half, Share a piece). However, the four letters also symbolize an acronym for “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” or “A Great Miracle Happened There.”

(7) It’s different in Israel!

If you play with an Israeli dreidel, you will find the Hebrew letter pei instead of the Hebrew letter shin.  That is because the four letters symbolize a slightly different acronym: “Nes Gadol Haya Poh,” or “A Great Miracle Happened Here.”

(8) Dreidel history

A commonly shared history of the dreidel was that the game served as subterfuge for illegal Torah (Bible) study during soldier raids.  However, some historians say  the English and Irish game Teetotum more likely served as inspiration.  When Teetotum migrated to Germany, it was called “trendel.” This was eventually adapted into the Yiddish “dreidel.”  Learn more here.

Did you know that the Hanukkah menorah actually holds nine candles?  The ninth candle is called the “shamash,” and is used to light all the other candles.  In honor of that important ninth candle, here is a bonus fact:

(9) Hanukkah in the White House

President Jimmy Carter lit the first National Menorah in 1979.

Happy Hanukkah!


Susie is a mom of two, book-lover and frequent challah baker. In addition to working at The University of Iowa, Susie is a PTA volunteer and sorority advisor. She loves date nights in the Ped Mall, catching a show at the Englert, and most of all, cuddling her family on the couch.


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