In a country like America (the quintessential melting pot of the world), it especially behooves us to approach this often magical holiday season of Chanukah, Christmas and Kwanzaa with an (even greater) awareness, appreciation and mindful understanding of those whose traditions/cultures/religions may not reflect our own. We’re aware that you might have questions you’ve never been able to ask. Don’t worry, we are here to help you out!

How many days is Chanukah?

Eight days. Chanukah celebrates the rededication of the (Holy) Temple in 16 B.C. by the Jewish freedom fighters, called the “Maccabees,” after its desecration by the Syrians. The symbol of the light reflects the spiritual victory over Hellenistic attempts to squash Jewish practices.

What do you call that candelabra you light?

Menorah – stands for light, wisdom, and divine inspiration. Originally, it was a seven-branched candelabra beaten out of a solid piece of gold which served as one of the sacred vessels in the Holy Temple. Most recently, it became an emblem on the coat of arms for the State of Israel. While the oil lamp lit during the original war was intended to last one night, it lasted much longer.

How else can you spell Chanukah?

Typically, it’s often also spelled “Hanukkah,” but there are many other phonetic variations as well.

Does Chanukah fall on the same date every year?

Yes. Although it seems to be held on a different date every year, it actually occurs on the same date, according to the Jewish calendar – the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar based on the moon’s rotation around the earth. Our secular calendar is a solar calendar based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. The 25th of Kislev can fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar.

Is the holiday intended for gift-giving so Jews aren’t left out of the “Christmas spirit?”

No. Although there’s some mention of “gelt”-giving (word for money in Yiddish) in both the Middle Ages and beyond, money was sometimes given to either teachers (for ex.) or children, either in the form of coin, and later in chocolate. Gift-giving is a recent phenomenon borne primarily in the United States around the turn of the century to help newly resettled Jews (and, more importantly, their children) assimilate better into American culture.

During how many days do Jews give presents during Chanukah?

Varies. Many Jewish families feel pressure to give their children gifts during a decidedly “gift-giving” season. However, money can also be given to charity as a token of this occurrence. It remains to be seen whether gifts are given on the first, second or all the days of the holiday.

Is Chanukah an important holiday to Jews?

No. Chanukah is a relatively minor holiday for Jews, flanked by the occurrence of Christmas (and even Kwanzaa), it has, only recently, taken on a much larger role in Jewish society.

What does the (Hebrew) word “Chanukah” mean?

Chanukah means Inauguration or Dedication. Some believe that its Hebrew derivation is an acronym for “eight candles…..” or is related to the Hebrew word “chinuch,” which means education.

Do Jews put menorahs in visible places (like Christmas trees)?

Varies. In Talmudic times, it sat at the front door of the home facing the street. However, given the harsh realities of the Diaspora and anti-Semitism, many families chose to place the menorah indoors. Later, the custom-developed, in some communities, to put it on the windowsill instead. Many Jews around the world remain fearful of this open display of religion.

What do you call a Chanukah tree?

You don’t.

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Cyma Shapiro
Cyma Shapiro is an author/blogger/writer/speaker/talk radio show host and TV producer. One of the preeminent original (national/international) voices for motherhood over 40, Cyma is also the creator of NURTURE: Stories of New Midlife Mothers, the first art gallery show dedicated to motherhood over 40, which traveled North America for several years; MotheringintheMiddle.com - the largest website in the world dedicated to parenthood/fatherhood/motherhood over 40; and The Zen of Midlife Mothering, an anthology dedicated to parenting over 40.

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