(NEXSTAR) – As many spend the time between Thanksgiving and early December focusing on the impending holiday of Christmas, there is another major holiday upon us – Hanukkah. Referred to as “eight crazy nights” in the infamous “Saturday Night Live” song by Adam Sandler, the holiday carries a greater meaning than lighting a menorah and spinning a dreidel.
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It is true that Hanukkah, also known as ‘Chanukah’ or the ‘festival of lights,’ is celebrated over eight days by Jewish people worldwide. Chanukah, a Hebrew word meaning “dedication” and pronounced as kha-nu-kah, stems from the holiday’s purpose: the rededication of the Holy Temple.
When is Hanukkah and what does it commemorate?
Hanukkah begins on the eve of Kislev 25 on the Hebrew calendar, which generally coincides with late November and early December. In 2021, Hanukkah runs from Nov. 28 to Dec. 6. Last year, it ran from Dec. 10 to Dec. 18.
The Jewish holiday’s origins date back centuries to when, according to the Chabad-Lubavitch of Wisconsin, a small group of Jews reclaimed their Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
“When the Jews recaptured the temple there was only oil sufficient to last for one night. The oil, however, lasted for eight nights. The holiday is celebrated by lighting candles, one additional one for each night of the eight nights that the holiday is celebrated,” Andrea Alcabes, Executive Director for the I.J. & Jeanné Wagner Jewish Community Center, tells KTVX.
According to Rabbi Hannah Wallick, Vice President of Leadership and Global with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, Hanukkah follows the lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. Because the two calendars are not aligned to the day, Jewish holidays fluctuate on the solar calendar. For 2021, Wallick says the holiday is hitting the solar calendar “early.”
How Hanukkah is observed
Each night, a candle of the Hanukkiah, or “menorah,” is lit. Wallick explains a menorah, technically speaking, has seven branches for candles while a Hanukkiah has eight plus one more which holds a helper candle used to light the others. It is common to see menorahs in the windows of Jewish homes and other public places like malls, parks, and city hall lawns.
Adam Sandler was right about another thing – during Hanukkah, it’s traditional to play with a dreidel, a four-sided spinning top with four Hebrew letters forming an acronym of “nes gadol hayah sham,” meaning “a great miracle happened there,” the Chabad-Lubavitch explains.
More you should know about Hanukkah
Despite what Sandler sang on “SNL,” there are a few more songs about the Jewish holiday than “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel.” First, here is Sandler’s 1994 song.
Peter, Paul, & Mary, the group behind “Puff the Magic Dragon,” also have a Hanukkah song, “Light One Candle.” Other songs include “Left to Right” by Michelle Citrin and “Hanukkah on Hanukkah” by Erran Baron Cohen – the brother of Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian behind Borat.
Additionally, while Hanukkah falls during a time when other faiths are celebrating major holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, it isn’t actually one of Judaism’s most important holidays.
“It does fall in an auspicious holiday season for other faith traditions, so people are more aware of it,” Wallick explains.