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Hanukkah, the Jewish ‘Festival of Lights’ begins tonight

Hanukkah is an eight-day “festival of lights” that takes place during the winter, oftentimes at or around the same time as Christmas.

Happy Hanukkah! — Yair Aronshtam from Israel (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Happy Hanukkah! — Yair Aronshtam from Israel (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Hanukkah is an eight-day “festival of lights” that takes place during the winter, oftentimes at or around the same time as Christmas. The holiday is also known as the Jewish Festival of Rededication.

Unlike Christmas, which has a fixed date in the Gregorian calendar every year, the date of Hanukkah depends on the Hebrew calendar, which is lunisolar, meaning that dates are regulated by the positions of both the Moon and the Sun.

Using the lunisolar calendar means that the date of Hanukkah varies every year based on the Gregorian calendar. This also means that Hanukkah can start as early as late November and can even fall as late as late December, according to the Farmer’s Almanac.

Hanukkah takes place every year on the 25th day of the month of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar and begins this year on the evening of November 28. The last time Hanukkah overlapped with Christmas was in 2016 – when the first night of the festival took place on Christmas Eve.

Old Jerusalem Or Ha’Chaim street Hanukkah decorations: “a great miracle happened here” Source – Utilisateur: Djampa – User: Djampa, CC SA 4.0.

The story of Hanukkah

In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), under the leadership of King Antiochus IV, who tried to force the Israelites to accept Greek culture and religious beliefs after desecrating the Second Temple in Jerusalem.

However, Jewish priest Mattathias and his sons rebelled. Defeating Antiochus’ troops and retaking Jerusalem and the Temple, they lit the holy lamp (the menorah) but had only enough oil for one night. 

Miraculously, the lamp stayed lit for eight days until enough holy oil could be procured. The miracle of the light burning for eight days gives us the eight-day duration of the “Festival of Lights”.

Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday as compared to the high Holy Days of Rosh Hashonah and Yom Kippur or to Purim and Passover. But Hanukkah seems to get its popularity in the Western world because of its close proximity to Christmas.

If you think about the two winter holidays, both Hanukkah and Christmas are a time of gift-giving, as well as a build-up to the winter solstice. And as a child, I always associated the miracle that took place that night with the power of God. And both holidays celebrate a miracle, don’t they?

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Karen Graham is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for environmental news. Karen's view of what is happening in our world is colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in man's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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