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When is Hanukkah 2020? What you need to know about the Jewish festival

The eight-day Jewish festival is nearly here

10 December 2020

hanukah, otherwise knowns as Hanukkah, is an eight-day festival of lights and a hugely joyous occasion for Jewish people worldwide.

Falling anywhere between late November and December each year, it begins four days before the new moon and is a time to enjoy food and time with the family.

This year, celebrations will be looking different due to covid Tier rules in England, but households may still observe traditions with those they already live with. 

Here's all you need to know about Hanukkah.

A dreidel which is commonly played during Hannukah / AFP/Getty Images

When is Hanukkah 2020?

Because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar, the date of Hannukah changes each year. It always falls between late November and December, four days before the new moon.

This year, Hannukah begins today, Thursday December 10, and runs through to Friday December 18.

The Hebrew calendar date is 25 Kislev.

What is Hanukkah about?

Hanukkah commemorates the Maccabean Revolt of 167-160BCE, in which a Jewish army rebelled against the ruling Hellenistic Seleucid Empire and won.

The Seleucids - who were culturally Greek - had outlawed Judaism and its practices, with King Antiochus attempting to make Jews pray and make sacrifices to Greek gods.

This prompted a small band of Jews to rebel against Antiochus in an effort to restore Judaism and remove the Selucids from Judea. After three years of war, this small army - known as the Maccabees - won, but their temple had been destroyed.

The Maccabees then proceeded to rebuild and cleanse the temple, and light flames to celebrate their victory. They only had enough kosher oil to burn for one day, but the flame miraculously stayed lit for eight days, giving them enough time to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah.

Dr Maria Diemling, reader in Jewish-Christian relations, tells the Standard: "The historical context is the struggle between tradition and assimilation, a recurrent theme in Jewish history.

“According to Jewish tradition, it celebrates a miracle: inside the Temple, the Maccabees found enough consecrated oil to light the eternal flame in the Temple for a single day but miraculously the oil lasted for eight days, long enough to produce new oil.

“This is the reason why Hanukkah is celebrated over eight days."

How is Hanukkah observed?

Hanukkah involves lighting candles on a special nine-branched candleholder known as the Hanukkiah, or Hanukkah menorah.

The ninth candle is the 'servant' used to light the other eight candles.

The lit Hanukkiah will be placed near a window to 'announce the miracle' of the festival to the outside world, and a candle is lit every day in order (one on the first day, two on the second and so on).

Families will get together and sing traditional songs, give gifts to children, eat and spin the dreidel.

A dreidel is a four-sided spinning top with different Hebrew letters on each side, which usually form the first letters of the Hebrew sentence "a great miracle happened there", referring to the Miracle of the cruse of oil.

Adults and children will gather round and play for money or sweets, putting one of these in the middle before having a go at spinning the dreidel. Winners are determined by the letter that appears when the dreidel has stopped spinning.

What food is traditionally eaten over Hanukkah?

Getty Images

Food at Hanukkah is often fried in oil, which refers to the oil of the miracle. Common foods include latkes with apple sauce and sour cream, donuts filled with jam, fried chicken, mashed potato pancakes, olive oil-fried aubergines and honey-soaked dough fritters.

Children were traditionally gifted money (‘gelt’ in Yiddish) although now chocolate coins are traditionally given.

It's becoming more common for people to give presents to each other over the eight days, while many families give to charity over the festival.

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