The word 'Hanukkah' translates as 're-dedication', and the festival commemorates the re-dedication of the temple in Jerusalem when the Jews recaptured the city from the Syrian Greeks some 2,500 year ago. They found enough oil in the temple to keep the menorah (candle-holder or lampstand) lit for one day - but miraculously it stayed lit for eight days. So, during Hanukkah, on the first night one candle is lit, then on the second night two candles, and so on until all eight candles are lit. A separate 'servant' candle or Shamash, often situated above or below the others, is used to light them all. Other Hanukkah traditions include:
- Eating food fried in oil such as potato pancakes or doughnuts, to remember the miraculous oil from the temple
- Playing dreidel - a four-sided spinning top imprinted with Hebrew letters which refer to the miracle
- Exchanging gifts and 'gelt' (Yiddish for 'money') - often these are chocolate coins in foil.
Find out more about Hanukkah from the following websites:
- BBC - Religions - Judaism: Hanukkah
- BBC Schools - Religion - Judaism: Hanukkah - includes classroom activities and worksheets, with Hannukkah recipes and patterns for making dreidel tops.
- Wikipedia - Hanukkah
- Judaism 101: Chanukkah
See also the following publications for schools, available from RE Today:
For secondary students (ages 11-16) there is an assembly script and a film clip about Hannukkah on the TrueTube website.