Because it is based on the Hebrew calendar, the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah changes dates yearly but usually occurs sometime in late November or early December. Often called the Winter Festival of Light, here are some fun facts to know about this holiday and what it means to those who celebrate it. 

1. Rebellion and Dedication

Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabees, a group of rebel Jews, retaking the Second Temple in Jerusalem from Greek-Syrian hands in the 2nd-century BC, well over 2,000 years ago!

2. Eight Nights of Light

Hanukkah takes place over eight nights and involves lighting candles, which, of course, has historical significance. Once the Maccabeans retook the Temple, part of the rededication process was lighting candles for eight nights. They only had enough oil for one night, but it miraculously lasted the full eight nights to complete the dedication process.

3. Menorahs

The menorah is the special candelabra that holds nine candles for each night of Hanukkah plus a central “Shamash” candle. Jews start by lighting the center candle, then each night light another candle, starting from the right. By the end of Hanukkah, 44 candles will have been burnt.

To see the largest menorah in the world, you’ll have to visit Grand Army Plaza in New York City. It displays a menorah each year that is 32 feet high and 4,000 pounds!

4. Fried Food (Jelly Donuts)

If you’ve ever enjoyed special meals during Hanukkah, you’ve probably noticed they contain a lot of fried foods, and it’s not just because they are delicious. The oil used to fry dishes like latkes, jelly donuts (sufganiyot), kugel, and apple fritters represents the oil that continued to burn for the Maccabeans for eight nights.

In Israel alone, almost 18 million jelly donuts are consumed each Hanukkah!

5. Spelling

When translated from Hebrew, Hanukkah means “dedication”, in reference to when the Maccabeans re-dedicated their Temple to God. It can be spelled in various ways because there is no direct translation of Hebrew sounds into English ones.

6. Gift-Giving

Originally, instead of giving gifts, it was more common for Hebrews to give money during Hanukkah. However, as gift-giving became more popular during Christmastime, many Jews followed a similar tradition and switched out money for gifts.

7. The Dreidel

Initially, the dreidel looks like a simple wooden or clay top children would have as a toy. But, looks can be deceiving. The dreidel was actually invented as a way to study scripture when the Greek-Syrians outlawed it.

8. White House Celebrations

President Harry Truman was the first US President to celebrate Hanukkah at the White House in 1951. Part of the celebrations included President Truman accepting a menorah as a gift from the then Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion.

Keeping Memories Alive with Companion Monuments

Just as Hanukkah creates a chance for people of the Jewish faith to remember their religion’s history and sacrifices, Quiring Monuments helps Jewish families design and create granite memorials in Washington. Our customized companion monuments can include Hebrew inscriptions and symbols, such as the Tree of Life. We also collaborate with local Jewish cemeteries, including the Herzl Ner Tamid Cemetery. Contact us for more details about our monuments and services.


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