Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word meaning dedication. The history of Hanukkah begins with Alexander the Great who, after conquering Syria, Egypt and Judea, allowed all people to continue to observe their chosen religions. It wasn’t until later that the successor of Alexander the Great, Antiochus IV, caused a great upheaval in among the Jewish population.

Under the reign of Antiochus, the Jewish people were required to worship Greek Gods.  In 165 BCE, Judah’s son Maccabee decided to rebel against this law and formed a crusade against Antiochus.  Having defeated the Greek Army, Maccabee and his allies found a sacred temple which had been left in ruins as a result of Antiochus’ army, and they restored the temple to its former glory.

Thus, on the 25th day of Kislev, they dedicated the temple by lighting a restored Menorah.  Although they were only able to find enough oil to keep the Menorah lit for one day, a miracle occurred in which the Menorah stayed lit for eight days. 

Thus, the Festival of Lights was born to commemorate that day in the temple when the miracle of the Menorah first occurred.   All Jews celebrate the miracle of the oil by placing eight candles in the Menorah and lighting one candle on each of the eight days of Hanukkah. 

Although not considered a holy day, Hanukkah is nevertheless celebrated by Jews around the world in observance of the miracle of the oil that occurred in the temple.  Hanukkah traditionally begins on the 22nd of December and ends on the 31st of December.

Research also reveals that there are two types of Menorahs: one is 7-branched and one is 8-branched.  There was a prohibition against the use of a 7-branched Menorah similar to the one used in the original temple.

The Hanukkah Menorah has a place for eight candles as well as a ninth candle set apart from the rest.  It is said that the eight candles commemorate the miracle of the oil while the ninth candle, the Shamash, symbolizes light.  

What Part Do the Blessings Play in Hanukkah?

On the first night of Hanukkah, the Shamash candle or master candle is lit.  After which several blessings or Brachos are recited concurrently, every evening, until Hanukkah is over.

The first blessing and one that is only recited on the first night as the Shamash candle is lit:

"Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, She'hecheyanu, vekiyemanu vehigi'anu laz'man hazeh."

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

When the first candle is placed in the Menorah, the following two blessings are recited:

"Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, Asher kid'shanu b'mitzvosav v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Chanukah."

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to Kindle the Chanukah light.

"Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, She'asah nisim la'avoseinu, bayamim ha'hem baz'man hazeh."

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.

Immediately following the lighting of the first candle, the Haneros Halalu is spoken:

“These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations, and the battles which you performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests.  During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders, and Your salvations.

The aforementioned blessings are recited every night of Hanukkah.  These blessings are the Jewish laws of the Torah and should be observed as part of the Hanukkah celebration.  Why are these blessings so important?  Perhaps there is only one answer.  For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not, no explanation will suffice.

Much of the food prepared in celebration of Hanukkah is fried, to commemorate the miracle of the oil. Two of the most popular Hanukkah dishes are latkes and jelly donuts, both fried. Find some recipes you can prepare for Hanukkah.

When cooking for Hanukkah, check all ingredients are kosher and remember you should not serve meat and dairy in the same meal when planning your Hanukkah menu.