Why Hanukkah starts on a different day every year

(NEXSTAR) — While many spend time between Thanksgiving and early December focusing on the approaching Christmas season, there’s another big holiday right around the corner: Hanukkah. Called “eight crazy nights” in Adam Sandler’s popular song “Saturday Night Live,” the holidays aren’t just about lighting a menorah and spinning a spinning top.

It is true that Hanukkah, also spelled “Hanukkah” and commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated for eight days by Jews around the world. The word itself, which means “dedication” in Hebrew and is pronounced like kha-nu-kah, derives from the purpose of the holiday: the rededication of the Holy Temple.

When is Hanukkah this year?

Hanukkah begins the day before Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar, which usually falls in late November or early December. This year, Hanukkah runs from December 18 to December 26 – several weeks later than in 2021, when the festival lasted from November 28 to December 6.

The origins of the holiday date back to the 2nd century BCE, when a small group of Jews reclaimed their holy temple in Jerusalem, according to the Chabad-Lubavitch of Wisconsin.

“When the Jews took over the temple, there was only enough oil for one night. The oil, however, lasted eight nights. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles, an extra one for each night of the eight nights where the party is celebrated,” Andrea Alcabes, executive director of the IJ & Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center, told Nexstar’s KTVX.

According to Rabbi Hannah Wallick, Vice President of Leadership and World for the Jewish Federation of Milwaukee, Hanukkah follows the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. Because the two calendars are not aligned on the day, Jewish holidays fluctuate on the solar calendar.

Depending on the year, Hanukkah could start as late as December 27.

How Hanukkah is observed

Each night, a Hanukkiah, or “menorah” candle is lit. Wallick explains that a menorah, technically speaking, has seven branches for candles while a Hanukkiah has eight, plus one more that contains an auxiliary candle used to light the others. It is common to see menorahs in the windows of Jewish homes and other public places like malls, parks, and City Hall lawns.

Adam Sandler was right on another point: During Hanukkah, it is traditional to play with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top with four Hebrew letters forming the acronym for “nes gadol hayah sham”, meaning “a great miracle has is produced there. Chabad-Lubavitch explains.

Learn more about Hanukkah

Despite what Sandler sang on “SNL,” there are more songs about the Jewish holiday than just “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.”

Peter, Paul and Mary, the group behind “Puff the Magic Dragon”, also have a Hanukkah song, “Light One Candle”. Other songs include “Left to Right” by Michelle Citrin and “Hanukkah on Hanukkah” by Erran Baron Cohen – the brother of Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian behind Borat.

Also, while Hanukkah falls during a time when other religions celebrate important holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, it’s not really one of the most important holidays in Judaism.

“It falls in an auspicious holiday period for other faith traditions, so people are more aware of that,” Wallick says.


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