Hanukkah- Traditions, Food, and History

What is Hanukkah? Learn about his Jewish holiday’s celebrations and traditions!


Sofia Diamond

Hanukkah Menorah

History of Hannukah 


     Hannukah is the celebration and the telling of the miracle of lights. Long ago around 200 B.C. Judea, the Land of Isreal came under the control of Antiochus III, who was the current king of Syria. Antiochus III allowed the Jews to freely practice their religion in his land. However, once he passed and his son Antiochus IV Epiphanes took the control of the land, and to the Jews’ misfortune, he was less pleasant. Ancient sources say he forced the Jewish people into worshiping the Greek Gods. Many Jews didn’t comply with his ways, making the new king very angry. Antiochus IV Epiphanes marched his soldiers into Jerusalem and massacred thousands of lives, he then marched in attempts to burn down their sacred temple. The Jews made a large altar with candles burning to keep the soldiers away, they knew as soon as the light went out King Antiochus IV Epiphanes’s soldiers would attack and bring their sacred temple down. The Jewish people were left with a terrible fate when they realized their candles would only have enough oil to burn for one more night, they thought they could not hold out until a brave Jew volunteered to gather oil and come back to relight the altar. The trip to get more oil would take 8 nights, they believed the light of the candles would not last. However, they still made the voyage to gain oil. The candles that they thought would only last one more night lasted for the full 8 days it took to receive the oil they needed, by doing this they protected their sacred temple and created the miracle of lights.


Hanukkiahs and Hannukah Menorahs


     The most common tradition in Jewish Families is to gather around to light the Hanukkah menorah, also known as hanukkiah. Due to Jewish tradition, you only light the Hanukkiah after the sun goes down, meaning that all Jewish holidays only begin to start when the sun sets. A hanukkiah is a candle altar that holds 8 candles and the Shamash, signifying the 8 days and nights that the candles lasted centuries ago. Each night going from right to left you use the middle candle (the Shamash) to light the corresponding amount of candles to which night of Hanukkah you are on. Hanukkiahs are traditionally

Hanukkiah, a Hannukah menorah Sofia Diamond

displayed in a window to show your pride in your culture, hanukkiah candles are meant to burn throughout the night until they diminish. It’s also important to note that every hanukkiah is special to a family, not all hanukkiahs look the same way. There are thousands of different hanukkiah designs, each family commonly reuses the same family one every Hannukah.




     Dreidels are spinning tops that are used as a Jewish game. A dreidel has four sides with four different Hebrew letters, consisting of Hei, Shin, Nun, and Gimmel. All four of these letters correspond to how many pieces of gelt you get or give in the game. Gelt is gold foil wrapped around chocolate coins, which is used as currency while playing with dreidels. Before playing you give each player a small handful of gelt coins, and place a large amount of gelt in the middle, the game commonly ends when someone runs out of gelt, and the goal of the game is to get as much chocolate as you can! If you spin the dreidel and get a ‘Nun’, you do nothing, if you land on a ‘Gimmel’ you get all the gelt coins in the middle, if you get a ‘Shin’ you have to add a piece of gelt to the center, and lastly, if you land on ‘Hey’ you take half of the what’s in the middle. 


Dreidels (Sofia Diamond)



     The celebration of Hanukkah always comes with a feast of food! An important staple food item of the Jewish people is challah bread! Challah bread comes of Ashkenazi Jewish origin in which the bread is braided in a pattern, while making the bread you portion a small piece to be set aside as a tribute. Another Ashkenazi Jewish staple food is Latkes! Latkes are also known as potato pancakes, which is accurate because they are most commonly made with flattened-down potatoes, Latkes commonly also include onions, cheese, and zucchini. Lastly, the most popular Hanukkah sweet is Sufganiyah, more commonly known as Jelly Donuts! Sufganiyah is round donuts filled with jam or custard, then sprinkled with powdered sugar. 

Have an amazing holiday season, enjoy your gelt and latkes, and happy Hanukkah!