Date: Begins on the 25th of Kislev
Duration: Eight days.
Names: Chag HaUrim (Festival of Lights).
Source: "They purified the Temple, removed the stones which defiled it...they took unhewed stones, as the Torah commands, and built a new altar on the model of the old one. They rebuilt the sanctuary and restored its interior and courts. They fixed the sacred vessels and menorah. When they had the shew bread on the table and had hung the curtains, and all their work was complete, then early on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev... it was redidicated with hymns of Thanksgiving...Then Yehudah, his brothers, and the whole congregation of Yisrael decreed that the rededication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness at the same time each year" (1 Maccabees 4:39-59).
General Theme: Chanukah marks the first time in recorded history that a war was launched for freedom of religion. About 2,100 years ago, Antiocus, the Syrian tyrant, set out to destroy the Jewish religion and replace it with Greek idol worship. He suffered a stunning defeat by the Maccabees, who not only defeated the enemy but also recaptured the Yerushalayim Temple and rededicated it. Through a miracle, the little cruse of pure oil that had been found burned for 8 days. That is why the Jewish people light candles on each of the 8 days of the festival. The special Chanukah candle holder is called a Chanukiah. On Chanukah many Jews have become involved in seeking freedom and opportunities for all people.
Traditional Foods: Foods fried in oil, especially potato pancakes (Latkes or Levivot in Hebrew). In Yisrael the custom is to serve jelly doughnuts (Sufganiot).
Customs: Each night of Chnukah the Chanukiah is lit and the appropriate blessings are recited. The song "Maoz Tzur" is often chanted upon the completion of lighting the Chanukiah.
In the synagogue the Chanukiah is also lit during the morning Shacharit service, but the blessings are not recited.
During the morning service the Torah is read (BaMidbar 7). The reading tells of the identical gifts that were brought by the princes of the tribes of Yisrael at the dedication of the altar.
The Hallel psalms of praise are chanted in the synagogue during the morning services. In addition, the special paragraph Al Hanissim is added to the Amidah prayer. The Al Hanissim thanks G-d for the miraculous deliverance of our ancestors in other days as well as in our time.
Chanukah games are played throughout the festival. The most popular one is spinning a Dreidel, which is a spinning top with four sides. One each side is found one of the following letters: nun, gimel, heh, or shin. These letters stand for the words "Nes gadol hayah sham" (A great miracle occurred there). If the dreidel falls on the nun, the player gets nothing; if it falls on the gimel, the player takes the whole pot; if it falls on the heh, the player takes half; if it falls on the shin, the player must add to the pot.
Sharing and exchanging of gifts, including Chanukah gelt (money).
Some people affix a new Mezuzah to a doorpost in the home that has yet to receive one. Since the word Chanukah itself means dedication, affixing a Mezuzah is the spiritual way to dedicate a room.
Some use the Festival of Chanukah to affix a Mizrach to an eastern wall in their home. Years ago when the Temple still existed, Jews outside Yerushalayim would face the city when praying. For many of the world's Jews, this meant facing East. The custom then developed of marking the eastern wall of the home in some manner so that one would always be aware of the direction of Yerushalayim. Today a Mizrach usually refers to some sort of decoration that is hung on the east wall of the house or synagogue to indicate that direction of Yerushalayim for correct orientation in prayer.