Top 5 Fun & Interesting Facts about Hanukkah

Written by Michael Wynands

Top 5 Hanukkah Facts

What is hanukkah? And when is hanukkah? Or is it chanukah? Or maybe hannukah? If you're not Jewish, words like sufganiyot, latkes, hanukkiah and dreidel might be foreign to you. But it's hard to argue with donuts and pancakes! On this episode of Top 5 Facts, we'll rundown the most essential and interesting things you need to know to understand the Festival of Lights!

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Written by Michael Wynands

Top 5 Hanukkah Facts

Tis’ the season... and we're not talking about Christmas. Welcome to WatchMojo’s Top 5 Facts. In today’s instalment, we’re counting down the top five facts about Hanukkah. This Jewish Holiday celebrates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by the Maccabees in 165 BC and the miracle that took place therein. It’s also the most publically celebrated Jewish holiday in popular culture.

#5: A "Hanukkiyah” Is a Menorah Specific to Hanukkah

“Menorah” and “hanukkiyah”– it’s kind of a “rectangle-square” dynamic. All hanukkiyahs are menorahs, but not all menorahs are hanukkiyahs. Confused? A menorah refers to a seven-branched candelabrum. As a religious symbol, it dates back to the time of Moses and later the first temple of Jerusalem. The hanukkiyah, also known as the hanukkiyah menorah, is a variant of this symbol, altered to commemorate the miracle of Hanukkah. It consists of eight candle-holding branches, and a ninth, higher or lower branch, which holds the shamash or “helper” - a candle used to light the eight ceremonial candles. Over the years, as Hanukkah rose in popularity, the term “Hanukkah menorah” has been abbreviated to just “menorah,” as the hanukkiyah surpassed the traditional menorah in terms of cultural prominence.

#4: There Are Many Different Ways to Spell Hanukkah

What’s the correct way to spell Hanukkah? There isn’t one. There are over 16 acceptable ways to spell the word. “H-A-N-U-K-K-A-H” is the most popular spelling, and widely considered to be the standard outside of Jewish communities. It’s also the official spelling according the American Library of Congress. But in the spirit of separating church and state, it’s important to note in our 26 letter English alphabet, there are many possible (and commonly used) spellings. Some examples include Hanukah with one N, Hannukah with two Ns, Chanukkah with two Ks and Chanukah with one K. The latter best recreates the traditional Hebrew pronunciation, while the Library of Congress official version, “Hanukkah” is the closest transliteration when compared to the spelling of the original Hebrew word. Ultimately, there’s no right answer. However you spell it, it means the same thing - “dedication”.

#3: Olive Oil Is An Important Part of the Celebration

Nowadays, a whopping 44 candles are used to fuel the flames of the hanukkiah. But traditionally, menorahs were lit with the purest olive oil - a tradition central to the Hanukkah miracle. In order to purify the Temple, the Maccabees needed to keep the sacred menorah burning. Despite only having enough oil for one night, it burned for eight. Oil may have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but it’s still crucial to the holiday. In fact, you can literally taste it in all the delicious food. Traditional Hanukkah fair is all about the oil - latkes, sufganiyot (which is a type of jelly donut), and much more. In Israel alone, it’s estimated that some 17 to 24 million sufganiyot are consumed each year during Hanukkah.

#2: It’s Actually A Minor Holiday

From a religious standpoint, Hanukkah is a relatively minor occasion on the Hebrew calendar - especially compared to holidays set aside as days of rest by the Torah, like Rosh Hashanah, Passover and Yom Kippur. Nonetheless, Hanukkah has arguably become the most recognizable Jewish holiday. Its religious significance has remained the same, but since the 19th century, its cultural significance, especially amongst American Jewish families, has grown exponentially. It’s now often treated as the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. While that’s a gross oversimplification, its position in the western “holiday season” has certainly influenced its cultural evolution. Traditionally, Jewish children received small sums of money (or “gelt”) over Hanukkah to encourage their Torah studies. Nowadays, children usually receive a variety of presents more in line with modern Christmas gift-giving practices.

#1: The Dreidel: A Toy And A Tool of Resistance

Before the Maccabees took back the temple, the Jewish people were persecuted in the region. King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had passed various laws prohibiting a great number of Jewish practices. Unable to observe their faith in public, the Jewish people began to study the Torah in secret. They would congregate wherever possible in small groups, to discuss and learn. If and when soldiers came to investigate, they would pull out the dreidels they kept close at hand and pretend to have been playing games. The dreidel was the perfect tool to help them in their covert fight for their right to practice their faith. To this day, the dreidel is inseparably intertwined with the history of Hanukkah, inscribed with characters that mean: "a great miracle happened there".

So, what are your favourite things about Hanukkah? For more delicious deep fried top 10s and misspelled 5s, be sure to subscribe to

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