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Hanukkah Lights Of 2011: Dates, Customs, History Explained

First Posted: 12/16/2011 12:31 pm Updated: 01/ 6/2012 12:04 pm

Hanukkah celebrations around the world:

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  • Tel Aviv

    Laser beams creating the image of a large lit Hanukkah menorah are projected on the Hiriya landfill, a former waste disposal site, now called the Ariel Sharon Park, near Tel Aviv, Israel, on the second eve of Hanukkah, Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2011. The Jewish festival of light, an eight-day commemoration of the Jewish uprising in the second century B.C. against the Greek-Syrian kingdom, which had tried to put statues of Greek gods in the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, started Tuesday.

  • Washington, D.C.

    The National Menorah is lit for the first night of Hanukkah on the National Mall Dec. 20, 2010 in Washington D.C. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

  • Jerusalem

    A Jewish man lights candles on the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah in the Haredi neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem on Dec. 20, 2011.

  • Boston

    Rabbi Rachmiel Liberman, left, and Mass. Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, right, light the center candle of an oversized menorah at the Statehouse, in Boston, Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2011, during ceremonies to commemorate the beginning of the eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.

  • Budapest

    Members of the local Jewish community and their children celebrate and dance on the first day of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, at Nyugati square in Budapest on Dec. 20, 2011.

  • London

    A menorah is lit on Dec. 20, 2011 to mark the beginning of the Jewish festival of Hanukkah in Trafalgar Square in London.

  • NYC

    Rabbi Michael Fienberg lights a Hanukkah candle at a service at Judson Memorial Church on National Homeless Persons Memorial Day on Dec. 21, 2011 in New York City. The annual interfaith service is organized by the homeless advocacy group Picture the Homeless, a grassroots organization founded and led by homeless people. According to Coalition for the Homeless, in New York City 41,200 homeless men, women, and children sleep each night in municipal homeless shelters.

  • Paris

    The great Rabbin of France Gilles Bernheim (C) flanked by Israeli ambassador in France Yossi Gal, lights a menorah, a seven branched lampstand, during the celebration of Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, on Dec. 20, 2011 at the Champs de Mars in Paris.

  • Berlin

    Rabbis Yehuda Teichtal (L) and Schmuel Segal pray as they erect a large nine-armed candleholder, a Hanukkiah, or Menorah, ahead of the start of the eight-day-long and annual Jewish Festival of Lights known as Hanukkah, in front of the Brandenburg Gate on December 20, 2011 in Berlin, Germany. The festival marks the rebellion of Maccabee Jews against the Greeks in 165 B.C.E., which some believers say included a number of miracles pointing to divine providence.

  • White House

    U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for a Hanukkah Reception Dec. 8, 2011 in the Grand Foyer of the White House in Washington, D.C.

  • New York City

    A large Hanukkah menorah stands Dec. 7, 2010 in New York City. Billed as the World's Largest Hanukkah Menorah, the steel frame stood on Fifth Avenue and 59th Street across from Central Park and was lit each evening during to mark the Jewish holiday.

  • Bratislava

    Israeli Ambassador in Slovakia Alexander Ben-Zvi lights the first candle of a giant Menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, during the first day of the Jewish holiday, Hanukkah, in Bratislava on Dec. 1, 2010.

  • Washington, D.C.

    The National Menorah is lit for the first night of Hanukkah on the National Mall Dec. 1, 2010 in Washington, D.C. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight day Jewish holiday marking the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. (

  • Amsterdam

    A rabbi lights the candles of a seven-branched candelabrum, a menorah, on the Dam in Amsterdam on Dec. 7, 2010 during the seventh day of Hannukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

  • Berlin

    Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal lights a menorah on the sixth day of Hanukkah at the Orthodox synagogue at the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Education Center on Dec. 6, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. Congregation members met in a speical prayer service for the victims of the Carmel fire in Israel, which has killed at least 41 people.

  • Budapest

    Leader of the Jewish Chabad Lubavicsi community, Rabbi Baruch Oberlander (R) and Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi (L) light a candle of a giant Menorah, a nine-branched candelabrum, on the first day of the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, at Nyugati square in Budapest on Dec. 1, 2010.

  • Moscow

    A man lights a candle marking the beginning of Hanukkah in a nightclub in Moscow on Dec. 13, 2009. Russia's Jewish community marks the rebellion of Maccabee Jews against the Greeks in 165 B.C., which some believers say included a number of miracles pointing to divine providence.

  • Jerusalem

    A Haredi Jewish man stands in front of a rack of candles celebrating the seventh night of the Jewish light festival of Hanukkah in a conservative district of Jerusalem on Dec. 7, 2010.

  • Mumbai

    Father of slain Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg's wife, Shimon Rosenberg, lights a menorah in front of the landmark Gateway of India monument in observance of the Hanukkah holiday in Mumbai Dec. 25, 2008, a month after militants attacked several landmarks in the city, including a Jewish cultural centre. Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were among those who died when heavily armed Islamist extremists stormed into the Nariman House complex in the Colaba Market area. The building, which housed the Hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement's Mumbai centre, served as an educational centre, synagogue and a hostel for Israeli tourists.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is celebrated Dec. 20-28, 2011. On the Jewish calendar, the Hebrew dates for Hanukkah are from sundown on the 25th of Kislev to sundown on the 2nd of Tevet in the year 5772.

The Festival of Lights, an eight-day celebration, marks the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C.E. during the Maccabean revolt against oppressive Greek rulers. It is one of the most widely observed Jewish holidays -- perhaps due to its proximity to Christmas on the Gregorian calendar -- and is celebrated by lighting a nine-branch candelabrum commonly called a menorah. (Technically, the candelabrum is called a hanukkiah to distinguish itself from the seven-branch menorah used in the Temple.)

The story of Hanukkah is one of revolution and miracles: Greek influence over the Jews in the Land of Israel was getting out of hand. Hellenism was spreading, an affront to Jewish culture and religious practice. When the Greek ruler of the time, Antiochus, forbade Jewish religious practice, a small group of Jews, the Maccabees, revolted. The Maccabees were successful and, as a first order of business, restored the desecrated Holy Temple. The menorah in the Temple needed to be lit. Traditionally, the candelabrum burned continuously. The Temple liberators searched high and low but could find only one vial of olive oil, which seemed to be enough for just one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, which was just enough time to receive a new shipment. To celebrate the miracle, Hanukkah was instituted.

Today, Jews everywhere light menorahs on each night of Hanukkah. Traditionally, one candle or flame is lit for each night until the eighth night, when all eight lights shine together. The menorah has a ninth "helper" flame -- known as the shamash -- used to light the other candles. This is necessary because in Jewish law the Hanukkah lights serve no other purpose than declaring the miracle of the holiday. Jews place the lit menorah in a prominent window in order to fulfill this commandment.

Gift giving is now a common practice on Hanukkah, and it is therefore a beloved time for Jewish children. Fried potato pancakes (latkes) and doughnuts (sufganiyot) are traditional fare, and a spinning top (dreidel) with four Hebrew letters has become synonymous with the holiday. The letters -- nun, gimel, hei, shin -- form an acronym for the message of Hanukkah: A great miracle happened there.

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Filed by Josh Fleet  |  Report Corrections