1. Hanukkah, while widely observed, especially in the U.S., isn’t what the Jewish religion terms a major holiday. However, some Rabbis argue that the only reason it’s a “minor” holiday is because this holiday does not require major restrictions on people’s behavior and eating habits. These major holidays include Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Sukkot.
2. Hanukkah means “dedication” and is a holiday that honors and celebrates one of the first recorded fights for religious freedom and the success of this fight. It commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. Once they regained their temple, they wanted to purify it by burning ritual oil for 8 days, but they only had enough oil for one night. The miracle of this holiday was that the oil lasted for the full 8 days, thus burning candles and celebrating for 8 days is part of this holiday.
3. There are actually nine candles on the Hanukkah Menorah, (also referred to as Hanukiah) even though there are only eight days of Hanukkah. The ninth candle is called the “shammus,” and is supposed to be at a different height than the others. This candle is lit first and used to light the other candles.
4. Unlike Christmas, Hanukkah doesn’t fall on the same date every year. This is because the Jewish calendar is lunisolar (based on the Sun and Moon) and doesn’t follow the standard Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah always starts on the 25th of Kislev — the month on the Hebrew calendar that usually coincides with November or December.
5. Gift-giving isn’t a traditional part of this holiday, but it has become more common in recent years, especially in areas where Jewish families have a lot of contact with Christians who celebrate Christmas. The only traditional gift of Hanukkah is “gelt,” small amounts of money.