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Mazaltov.co.uk  - Hanukkah (Festival of Lights)
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights is a 8-day holiday which commemorates the re-dedication of the (second) Temple in Jerusalem. Like its name suggests, this Jewish holiday is observed by burning of the lights which are placed on a specially designed candelabrum, known as Menorah. It consists of eight branches and an additional branch which is raised above the other branches and is used to hold an extra light which is called shamash. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and eight nights starting on the 25th day of Kislev which is sometime between late November and late December according to the Gregorian calendar.

The story of Hanukkah is described in the Talmud. According to the latter, the Temple in Jerusalem was looted by the forces of Antiochus IV, ruler of the Seleucid Empire. He banned the services, ordered the erection of an altar to Zeus and had pigs sacrificed at the temple’s altar which provoked a major revolt. Within two years, the Seleucid forces were expelled and the Temple was re-dedicated. Judas Maccabeus who led the revolt against the Seleucid Empire ordered cleansing of the Temple, construction of a new altar and new holy vessels to be made. However, there was only one-night supply of olive oil needed to burn the Menorah in the Temple. Despite that, the Talmud says that it burned for eight days which was enough to prepare the needed supply of olive oil. To commemorate the miracle, an eight-day festival was declared - Hanukkah.

As already mentioned earlier, Hanukkah is celebrated by burning of the lights on the Menorah, an eight-branched candelabrum which has an extra branch for the so-called shamash. The lights are usually candles or oil lamps which must burn at least half of an hour after sunset. Electric lights are used only where open flame is not allowed. The number of kindled lights usually increases with each night, while the extra light - shamash is kindled every night. It used to serve as extra illumination because the Hanukkah lights must not be used for anything other than celebrating and publicising Hanukkah. Menorah is traditionally placed on a prominent window or near the door leading to the street. In times of persecutions of the Jews and during the Second World War, however, the Menorah was held in a place outside the public view.

Celebration of Hanukkah involves a series of other rituals and ceremonies including special prayer services, blessing of the meals which typically consist of fried foods that symbolise the miracle of the small amount of olive oil burning in the Temple for eight days and singing Hanukkah songs, while some Jewish communities also recite Psalms. In Israel and North America it is also common to exchange presents at the time of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is an important holiday for the Jewish community worldwide, however, it is not a Sabbath-like holiday. Everyone go to work as usual although some people may leave from work earlier in order to kindle the lights at nightfall. In Israel, schools are closed from the second day of Hanukkah onwards.