Did you ever want to know more about the eight-day celebration known as Hanukkah? Here are some answers to questions you or your child may have asked:

What’s the deal with the spelling (or lack thereof)?

Chanukah/Hanukkah/Chanuka is a Hebrew word. That means when you spell the word with English letters, you have to do it phonetically, and they don’t line up perfectly. Some people have preferred spellings, but there is no correct English spelling. Some people say any spelling is correct as long as it has eight letters to represent the eight nights.

Why does it change dates?

Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Because the Hebrew calendar measures lunar months, the date of Hanukkah changes from year to year.

What are we celebrating this time?

Back when Greece ruled Israel, there was “a bad king” named Antiochus. He told Jewish people that they had to eat pigs. Pigs are not-kosher, meaning it’s against traditional Jewish law to eat them.

Judah Maccabee and the Maccabees fought and fought the Greeks. The Greeks destroyed the Jewish temple and ruined all the holy oil. Obviously, the Jews lived. But they could only find one tiny bit of oil to last one day. Miraculously the oil lasted for 8 days, long enough to make new oil and to bring about an eight-night long festival of lights.

What are we eating this time?

Lots of stuff with oil. Because the oil lasted for eight days. The two most well-known Hanukkah foods are potato latkes and sufganiyot. Latkes are what many people call potato pancakes. There’s not a big difference between a latke and a potato pancake, except that a truly traditional latke has chicken fat in it. Sufganiyot is basically a jelly donut.

Why does my kid always come home from school singing about a dreidel?

There are plenty of Hanukkah songs. Tons of them. But a lot of people prefer the dreidel song. Maybe because the game is so fun? Dreidel is a Hanukkah game involving a spinning top and what basically amounts to gambling for candy. Each letter on the dreidel is part of the acronym for “A Great Miracle Happened There.” The game is often played with gelt (chocolate coins).

What about presents?

Presents are only a big deal in places where Hanukkah “competes” for attention with Christmas. Some families do other special activities each night instead of presents.

What’s that menorah thing?

Most people have probably at least seen a menorah. It holds eight candles, one for each night and also a shamash, or helper candle. On the first night, one candle plus the shamash is lit. The second night, two candles plus the shamash, and so on. This is done in celebration of The Temple oil having lasted eight days.

-Jill Morgenstern

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