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Hanukkah: What you should know about Judaism’s ‘festival of lights’

Here’s a brief history of the holiday and how it’s celebrated today.

ST. LOUIS — The eight-day festival of lights known as Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is coming up soon and Jews from across the world will be celebrating.

The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, according to History.com. It was there that Jews had risen up against their oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt, legend states.

Here’s a brief history of the holiday and how it’s celebrated today.

When is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. 

This year, Hanukkah begins on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 18 and ends the evening of Monday, Dec. 26.

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History of Hanukkah

According to History.com, the events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during an unstable period of Jewish history.

Around 200 B.C., Judea came under control of Antiochus III, the king of Syria. He first allowed Jews to practice their religion, but his son outlawed the Jewish faith and ordered Jews to worship Greek gods, History.com stated.

In 168 B.C., his soldiers massacred thousands of people and desecrated the city’s Second Temple. At the temple, they erected an alter to Zeus and sacrificed pigs.

A rebellion was led by Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons. When he died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee, took over and within two years the Jews had driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem.

The Jews cleansed the Second Temple, rebuilt the alter and lit the menorah. The seven branches of the menorah represented knowledge and creation, according to History.com.

RELATED: Yom Kippur: What to know about Judaism's most sacred day of the year

The 'Miracle'

After Judah Maccabee and the other Jews rededicated the Second Temple, they say they witnessed a miracle.

According to the Talmud, there was only enough olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day. However, the candles stayed lit for eight nights, which left the Jews time to find a fresh supply.

The event inspired Jewish sages to, “proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.”

Observing Hanukkah

The menorah

One major part of celebrating the Hanukkah holiday is lighting the menorah each night and by the eighth night, all the candles will glow.

Special blessings are said before the menorah is lit and traditional songs are sung afterward, according to Chabad.org. The menorah is lit in every household and placed in a doorway or window. It's also lit in synagogues and other public places.

Fried foods

Since the Hanukkah miracle involved oil, it’s customary to eat foods fried in oil. The potato latke (pancake) and jelly-filled sufganiyah (doughnut) are a couple favorites people enjoy during the holiday.


It’s also customary to play with a dreidel – a four-sided spinning top with Hebrew letters. Prizes like coins and nuts are won or lost based on which letter the dreidel lands on when its spun, according to Chabad.org.

Hanukkah Gelt

It’s a tradition to give Hanukkah "gelt" – gifts of money – to children. The gifts are rewards for good behavior and devotion to studying the Torah, Chabad.org stated. The cash gifts also give the children the opportunity to give to charity.

Celebrating in St. Louis

Home Depot Chanukah Experience 

Chabad of Greater St. Louis is offering an event called “The Home Depot Chanukah Experience.” At this event, you can build your own menorah and enjoy holiday music and hot latkes, free of charge.

Where: The Home Depot, 1603 S. Hanley Road, Brentwood, MO.

When: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18.

Chanukah on Main Street

The Chabad Center of St. Charles County is hosting "Chanukah on Main Street." The event will feature a menorah lighting, dreidel, gelt drop, hot latkes and holiday music. The event is free of charge. Click here to register.

Where: Berthold Square Park, South Main Street, Saint Charles, MO.

When: 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18.

Chanukah @ The Arch 

Chabad of Greater St. Louis is holding "Chanukah @ The Arch." The event will feature a grand menorah lighting, ice skating, apple cider, latkes and holiday music. Click here for free tickets.

Where: Kiener Plaza Park, 500 Chestnut Street, St. Louis, MO.

When: 6-7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 19.

Menorah Car Parade

Where: Central Park Chesterfield, Lydia Hill Drive, Chesterfield, MO.

When: Thursday, Dec. 20. Line up – 6 p.m., parade begins – 6:30 p.m., grand menorah lighting at 10-year celebration – 7 p.m.

Click here to register.

Chanukah @ the Police Station 

The Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County is holding “Chanukah @ the Police Station. The event will feature a menorah lighting, photos with police officers, a k-9 meet and greet, doughnuts and holiday treats.

Where: O'Fallon Justice Center, Bryan Road, O'Fallon, MO.

When: 5-5:45 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 21

Grand Menorah Lighting

The St. Louis Public Library – Schlafly Branch is hosting a grand menorah lighting. The event will feature a menorah lighting, Chanukah treats and music.

Where: St. Louis Public Library - Schlafly Library, North Euclid Avenue, St. Louis, MO.

When: 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 22

If you know of other events around the St. Louis area, send us an email.

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