1. Food
Send to a Friend via Email
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

Hanukkah History

Hanukkah gifts are a fairly recent development


Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights which is celebrated for eight days to remember the the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus of Syria some twenty-one centuries ago. Hanukkah is celebrated in December or late November, on Kislev 25 in the Jewish calendar.

It is a joyful celebration which encourages much eating, singing and rejoicing; a happy time when family comes together to commemorate the holiday by lighting a candle for each of the eight days of the celebration, exchange gifts and eat special symbolic foods.

Hanukkah History

The Hanukkah holiday originated when Judah the Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the temple in the village of Modi'in from Syrian King Antiochus IV. The temple was cleansed and prepared for rededication. The Hebrew word hanukkah means "dedication." When the sacred temple Menorah (candelabra) was relit, there was only enough sacred oil to burn for one day. Yet, according to tradition, the oil miraculously lasted eight days until more purified oil could be found.

A lesser known story from the Apocrypha tells of the beautiful widow Judith who plied enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with cheese and wine until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith beheaded the general in his sleep, and his soldiers fled in fear, thus saving her people from the Assyrians. This story is the subject of much renowned artwork.

In remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Children receive gifts of gelt (in remembrance of the coins minted by the new independent Maccabee state) or money and play games of dreidel (a spinning four-sided top.)

The tradition of receiving a gift on each of the eight days of Hanukkah is fairly recent. Since Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes at around the same time of the year.

You will also see this holiday spelled Chanukkah and perhaps even Hannukah due to different translations, pronunciations, and customs.

More About Hanukkah and Hannukah Recipes

Hanukkah Traditional Symbolic Foods
Hanukkah History
Hanukkah Recipes


Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook
Kosher by Design
Adventures in Jewish Cooking
The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking
More Cookbooks
  1. About.com
  2. Food
  3. Home Cooking
  4. Cooking Resources
  5. Food History
  6. Hanukkah History

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.