/ (ˈhɑːnəkə, -nʊˌkɑː, Hebrew xanuˈka) /
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a variant spelling of Hanukkah
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012


What is Chanukah?

Chanukah is an eight-day Jewish festival that commemorates the rededication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century b.c.e. It usually occurs in December but can also happen in late November and can extend into January.

It is also commonly spelled Hanukkah. It is sometimes called the Feast of Dedication—the name of the holiday is commonly interpreted as meaning “a dedication” in Hebrew.

More commonly, it’s referred to as the Festival of Lights (or Feast of Lights). That’s because Chanukah is observed with the lighting of a multi-branched candelabrum called the menorah (or hanukiah or chanukiah). When it has nine candles, one of them is a “starter” (technically called the shammes) that’s used to light the other eight candles. One candle is lit on each subsequent evening of the celebration, until all are lit. Special prayers may be said during the lighting of each candle or at different times of each day.

The tradition of lighting the menorah during Chanukah is done to commemorate the story of a miracle. According to the story, when the Temple was rededicated, its lamps burned miraculously for a week, even though there was not enough oil to fuel them.

The rededication of the Temple occurred after Judea was liberated from Syrian occupation by the Maccabees, a family of Jews led by Judas Maccabaeus. They defeated the Syrians under Antiochus IV around 165 b.c.e.

The timing of Chanukah is based on the Jewish calendar and varies from year to year. It is celebrated on the 25th day of the month of Kislev to the 2nd of Tevet. This most often corresponds to an eight-day period in December.

Common ways of celebrating Chanukah include giving gifts to children and loved ones, having family dinners, and eating special foods like latkes. Children sometimes play games with a traditional toy called a dreidel, a kind of four-sided top.

Example: I love spending Chanukah with my family and lighting the menorah each night!

Where does Chanukah come from?

Various spellings of the word Chanukah have been used in English since at least the 1600s. It comes from the Hebrew word ḥănukkāh, which is thought to mean “a dedicating” or “a dedication.”

Chanukah is thousands of years old, but it’s not one of the holidays mentioned in the canonical Jewish scriptures (the events it commemorates occurred after the writing of the Torah). Instead, it is based on rabbinic tradition. In the context of the Jewish religion, it is not considered one of the most important Jewish holy days. However, it is now celebrated by Jews all over the world, and it is especially popular among Jews in the United States. Chanukah is also one of the most well-known Jewish holidays among people who are not Jewish, especially due to the fact that it often falls around the Christian holiday of Christmas, making it part of the “holiday season,” especially in the U.S.

Did you know ... ?

What are some other forms related to Chanukah?

What are some synonyms for Chanukah?

What are some words that share a root or word element with Chanukah

What are some words that often get used in discussing Chanukah?

How is Chanukah used in real life?

Chanukah is a time of celebration for Jews and is well-known even among people who are not Jewish. It is commonly spelled Hanukkah.



Try using Chanukah!

True or False? 

Chanukah always takes place on the same eight days in December.

How to use Chanukah in a sentence

Cultural definitions for Chanukah


Another spelling of Hanukkah.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.