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Hanukkah, or Chanukah, is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” But what is Hanukkah?

It is the Jewish winter festival that lasts for eight days. It celebrates both the overthrow of an oppressive monarchy and the reclaiming of the Jewish Temple. The festival begins during the Jewish month of Kislev, on the 25th day. This usually occurs in December. To celebrate, there are many Hanukkah traditions involving rituals and food and gifts.

Each night, a candle is lit on the menorah, a nine-armed candelabra. This is done to remember and honor the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Blessings are said before lighting the candle, and songs are sung after lighting the candle. The menorah is commonly placed in a window, so others can see the light from the candles.

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Oil was significant in the relighting of that Temple’s menorah, because one small jug of oil kept the candles burning for eight entire nights. Thus, one of the Hanukkah traditions is to eat many foods fried in oil. Some of these include sufganiyot, or doughnuts, and latkes, potato pancakes. Try some of Southern Living’s Hanukkah recipes to better experience the holiday yourself. Take note of what the foods mean and why they are eaten.

Other traditions include playing with a dreidel and giving gelt to children for good behavior. To play with a dreidel, a top, players place gelt or chocolate into the center of a circle, and one player spins the dreidel. Whatever side the top lands on determines how much of the goods the player takes. These traditions are opportunities to tell your children about other winter holidays and rituals that they might not know about. Use Southern Living’s Hanukkah crafts to engage them and help them understand what Hanukkah is.

Though you yourself might not celebrate Hanukkah, understanding what it is and its significance can help to honor it and others’ holiday traditions.