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History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, also known as Festival of Lights, is one of the most beautiful and popular Jewish festivals. It is held annually towards the year-end, people light candles during 8 days, eat some fried food and children get small presents.

It is one of the feasts, which doesn’t appear in the Torah or Hebrew bible, although it is very popular, maybe the reason that Christmas time is very near to this festival's time.

This year Hanukkah begins on Dec. 22. and continues until Dec. 30.


Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. The Jews had rebbeled against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. It also celebrates a miracle that occurred that time. The Maccabees had a new menorah constructed, as the previous gold one had been stolen. Although there was only enough oil for one day to fuel the Menorah (a candelabra used in temple services), it burned for eight days and nights. This is known today as miracle of Hanukkah.


Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and eight nights. Celebrations begin when the sun sets, when one candle of the Hanukkah menorah (also known as a chanukiah) is lit by the shamash, the "attendant" candle. This is actually the ninth and typically tallest branch of the chanukiah.


One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second and so forth. Traditionally, candles are added and lit from right to left.

The lightened menorah is traditionally placed in a door or window that faces the street sharing the light with neighbours.


Typical Hanukkah foods are fried in oil. (pancakes made of potatoes, donuts). Do you know why? Because it commemorates the miracle of oil.

Did you hear that some Hanukkah meals include cheese and other dairy products? It refers to Yehudit's military victory (Judith) whose homemade cheese played an important role in 164 B.C. She served her salty cheese to a Greek general, who was so thirsty that he had to drink a lot of wine and at the end he passed out and Yehudit chopped off his head.


The dreidel is a popular Hanukkah gambling game. (Yiddish word means "to spin").

Do you wonder what are the rules? There are four different Hebrew letters on each side: nun (נ), gimel (ג), hei (ה)‎, and shin (ש). These letters stand for the phrase "nes gadol hayah sham," whit the meaning: "a great miracle happened there."


In Israel, the phrase is "nes gadol hayah po," which translates to "a great miracle happened here," and the shin is replaced with a pey (פ) on the dreidel.

Each player has to spin the dreidel, and the letter of the dreidel means an action, such as putting currency in the central pot, winning part or all of the pot, or doing nothing. Anything can be used for currency, such as candies, nuts, chocolate coins or raisins.


Hanukkah is celebrated in many ways in Budapest and in other towns of Hungary. There are also public candle lightings in Budapest but you can find more parties, festivals, special events at many places and restaurant. If you are in Budapest, let's celebrate the Festival of Lights together!

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