The eight-day holiday is accompanied by lighting of candles on each day. This eight-day structure is reflected in the Hanukkah name, with the Hebrew characters for Hanukkah indicating, “Eight candles, and the halakha is like the House of Hillel” (Telushkin 1991, p. 111). While primarily occurring in December, from instance the 2012 Hanukkah will occur from December 8th to December 16th, it can begin as early as late November. This essay examines a number of traditional and historical elements related to the Hanukkah holiday.
There are a diverse number of historical elements associated with the Hanukkah holiday. Traditional accounts of the emergence of Hanukkah link it to occurrences surrounding the Second Temple. The Second Temple was looted and services stopped. This greatly limited the Jewish religion. In 167 B.C. Antiochus ordered a statue to Zeus was even erected in the Jewish Temple (Wood 1986). This ultimately proved to be unsuccessful as the decrees were largely ignored and a small-scale revolt occurred and Judaism was reinstated in the temple. This rededication is remembered by the Hanukkah holiday. The first such holiday occurred wherein a light with oil was lit that ended up lasting for eight-days and as such it became a tradition to observe the holiday for eight nights, with eight lights. Written accounts of Hanukkah first appear in the Jewish Talmud. This account contains many of the elements that would evolve into the contemporary holiday. During this period it was indicated that a single candle be lit per household a night; a second option being that a candle be lit for each member of the family. This practice would carry on throughout a number of incarnations into the modern holiday. There are a number of religious practices associated with the Hanukkah holiday. One of these rituals is the daily prayer service that occurs throughout Jewish homes and Jewish temples during the Hanukkah holiday. There is also a special prayer that occurs after nightly meals. Following the nature of the holiday season, Hanukkah is generally accompanied by families visiting each other and celebrating with elaborate feasts, with lots of fried foods (Gur 2008). While not required, each of the eight-days is generally accompanied by gift giving that slightly mirrors the Christmas holiday. Still, perhaps the most overarching ritual is the lighting of the candles on each of the eight days. The lights can be candles or oil lamps and on each proceeding night a new light is added to the ceremony, until the final night with eight lights. Three main blessings occur during the Hanukkah celebration. The first night all three blessings are recited; however, on the other nights, only two of the blessings are recited. While there are elements of the Hanukkah holiday that are universal among all sects of Judaism, there exists some differentiation. For instance, the blessings are said either before or after the candles are lit, depending on the specific sect of Judaism. Another such difference between sects of Judaism occurs in Ashkenazic communities, wherein the Hanerot Halalu is recited during the lighting ceremony. Generally, Ashkenazic sects are recognized to have a more stringent and observant version of Hanukkah; however, recent practices in Western countries have increasingly seen Sephardim and Mizrahim engage in more elaborate celebrations, such as the singing of the Ma’oz. It’s notable that the main differences between sects in terms of Hanukkah practices are not the level of Hanukkah observance, however, but in the types of prayers and choice of psalms that are recited before and after the candle lighting ceremonies. In addition, the final day of the Hanukkah ceremony is recognized by the