The miracle of Hanukka is in understanding the history and origin of the holiday.

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hanukkah-CCHumanistic Hanukka Blessings








Barukh haor baolam.
Barukh haor baadam.
Barukh haor baHanukka.


Blessed is the light of the world.
Blessed is the light within humanity.
Blessed is the light of Hanukkah.








How do you spell Hanukkah? The Hebrew word Hanukka is transliterated into English in a number of ways. The most common transliterations are Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hanukka. But don’t forget, Hanukkah is spelled het, nun, vav, kaf, hey.


The Story

Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of lights, is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” The name refers to the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its recapture from the Greeks by the Maccabees in 164 B.C.E. The basis of the traditional celebration of Hanukka is this story of the Maccabean victory, recorded in the Book of Maccabees, embellished by Talmudic legend.


When Antiochus IV of the Seleucid dynasty ordered Mattathias Maccabee to sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused to do so. A small band of Jews under the leadership of Mattathias’ son, Judah Maccabee, rebelled. The Greeks ultimately were forced to withdraw from Jerusalem and the Maccabees established an independent Jewish state known as the Hasmonean kingdom. Following their recapture of Jerusalem, the victorious Jews, upon reconsecrating the desecrated Temple to Yahveh, their God, decreed an annual celebration of Jewish independence, corresponding to the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.


Early Origins

But Hanukka originated long before the Maccabean victory. Its roots may have developed in a primitive winter festival of lights. Some speculate as the days grew shorter, people feared that the sun was dying and that the world would be plunged into eternal darkness and death. In an effort to coax the sun back to life, they kindled fires at the time of the solstice. When the solstice passed, daylight increased and people rejoiced in the rejuvenation of the sun.


Although the Maccabean victory actually occurred two months before the solstice, the coupling of Hanukka and the solstice celebration ensured the survival of the Maccabean celebration. Some six hundred years after the Maccabean victory, the rabbis, seeking to inject a theistic justification for a celebration the people would not abandon, linked the revelry to Yahveh’s power by introducing the legend of the single flask of oil that miraculously burned in the rededicated Temple for eight days.


Meaning of Hanukka for Humanistic Jews

For Humanistic Jews, Hanukka is a celebration of the human spirit. It is the triumph of light over darkness and human hope and courage over despair. Judah Maccabee, like his enemy Antiochus, was a religious fanatic who denied freedom of worship to those who opposed him; but he also was a man of integrity who was willing to declare and fight for what he firmly believed.


Much as the Maccabees seized control of their own lives, Humanistic Jews take their future into their own hands. They choose how they will live, seeking to behave courageously and with integrity. Hanukka is an endorsement of human daring and human ingenuity.


Celebrating Hanukka

The symbol of Hanukka is the eight-branched candelabrum, or hanukkia, commonly called a menorah, which consists of nine candles, including the shamash or helper candle. Community celebrations and family parties feature consist of participants who light the menorah, eat latkes and sufganiyot (fried donuts), sing songs, give Hanukka gelt (money) and play dreidel games. The flickering lights are a reminder of the struggles, courage, and fragile triumphs of the Jewish people.