What is Hanukkah? History and meaning of the Jewish Festival of Lights

Published by Cécile de Sortiraparis, Nathanaël de Sortiraparis · Published on November 25th, 2023 at 12:44 p.m.
From December 7 to 15, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights: Hanukkah. Where does this festival come from and what does it mean? We tell you.

At the beginning of December, Jews celebrate the Festival of Lights. Better known as Hanukkah, this celebration lasts eight days. The date changes every year, according to the Jewish calendar, which is based on the Moon. This year, the festival runs from December 7 to 15, 2023.

During this festival, established by the Talmud, the Jewish people commemorate "the miracle of the lights". The story takes place in the 2nd century BC.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled Judea with an iron fist. He forced the Hebrews to follow the ancient Greek religion, massacring Jews who rebelled and tried to practice their religion. The Great Temple of Jerusalem had been desecrated and converted into a temple in honor of Zeus. To counter this order, some Jews built a new altar in the temple. The word "hanouka" symbolizes this act of resistance, meaning "inauguration".

Attempting to light the new temple's Menorah, the Hebrews were only able to recover one vial of olive oil, a quantity that was insufficient to maintain the candelabra permanently, as tradition dictated. The oil takes eight days to make. And then the miracle happened: during those eight days, the vial of oil continued to burn, despite expectations.

To commemorate this inauguration and the miracle associated with it, every evening at dusk Jews light one of the candles on the menorah, starting with the right-hand one.

During this celebration, it is also customary to participate in songs and blessings. Jews also gather around dishes cooked in oil (latkes, potato pancakes and other fritters). Another tradition is to play with a four-sided spinning top, with symbols forming the phrase"nes gadol haya sham", meaning"a great miracle happened there".

No specific prayers are added to religious services. However, special readings are added to the usual liturgies.

Practical information

Dates and Opening Time
From December 7th, 2023 to December 15th, 2023

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