How to Have a Happy Hanukkah 2023
Stores have cleared the back-to-school supplies to make way for Christmas decorations. The weather is changing, and soon we’ll hear Bing Crosby singing about a White Christmas on every radio station. But what about Hanukkah in 2023?
But for Jewish people everywhere, there’s more to this holiday season than just feel-good movies and baking. In fact, there’s plenty of houses that won’t be staged with a Christmas tree this year.
As a Messianic congregation with a heart for the Bible and Biblical holidays, we can relate. Although the Hanukkah celebration isn’t commanded in the Torah, or the Old Testament, the story of Hanukkah calls us to rededication in new and meaningful ways each year.
So what’s so special about Hanukkah? And where do dreidels, latkes and menorahs fit?
We’ll cover all you need to know about this holiday, so you can celebrate Hanukkah in 2023.
Other Names for Hanukkah
You may see this Jewish holiday written as Hanukkah, Hanukkah, Hanukah or even Chanukah. They’re all referring to the same thing.
Some other popular names include the Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication.
What is Hanukkah?
The Jewish festival of Hanukkah celebrates a major military victory in the 2nd century BCE that changed an entire nation. The Syrian King Antiochus waged war on Israel. He mandated that the Jewish people were to worship Greek gods. Antiochus even desecrated the holy temple in Jerusalem, turning it into a shrine to Zeus.
While all the Jewish people agreed that worshipping Greek gods was against their beliefs, several of them assimilated into the new culture. Still, other Jews decided to take a stand.
Of those who refused to bow to false gods was the priest Mattathias. He felt so strongly that when he saw a Jew getting ready to offer sacrifices to the Greek gods, he killed the man and the King’s officer who stood nearby.
This outburst led to the great Jewish uprising against King Antiochus Epiphanes.
Mattathias and his family fled to the hills, where others joined him. This small group of farmers-turned-soldiers became known as the Maccabees.
Judah Maccabee took over after Mattathias died, and the ragtag army went on to conquer the Syrian army and reclaim the temple in December 164 BCE, three long years after Antiochus had taken over.
Miracle of the Oil
A menorah is a multi-branched candelabra that signifies holiness and the rhythms of God. The first and second temples had seven branch menorahs, resembling the six days of the week and the Sabbath, or Shabbat. It was customary to keep the candles burning at all times in the temple.
After the temple was recaptured, priests were put to work cleaning, restoring and lighting the menorah.
Unfortunately, there was only enough oil for one day, and it would take eight days to prepare more oil.
Even still, the priests lit the menorah, reconsecrating the temple for God.
Tradition would tell us the candles stayed lit for eight days until new oil could be prepared. The lighting of the menorah today represents God’s faithfulness to provide for His people in miraculous ways.
When we walk out in faith, God meets and sustains us.
The Hanukkah Elements
So how do dreidels, latkes and doughnuts fit into the Hanukkah celebrations? Let’s take a look.
Jewish tradition says that when King Antiochus outlawed the Torah, Jews found hidden ways to keep their traditions alive. They began teaching the Torah orally through a spinning top game that we refer to as dreidel.
Each side of the dreidel has a Hebrew letter on it—nun, gimel, hey (or chai) and shin. Together, the letters form “New Gadol Hayah Sham” or “a great miracle happened there.” In Israel, the dreidels are slightly different, indicating “a great miracle happened here.”
It’s customary to stock up on Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and play dreidel during the eight nights of Hanukkah.
While there were seven menorah candles on the temple candelabrum, there are nine Hanukkah candles. The Hanukkah menorah, also called a Hanukkiah, has a branch for each of the eight nights of Hanukkah plus a shamash candle, or a helper candle.
It’s customary for the shamash candle to light the other candles each night.
Latkes & Doughnuts
Latkes, otherwise known as potato pancakes, go hand-in-hand with Hanukkah. Why? Because they are loaded with oil.
To celebrate the traditional miracle of the oil, we eat foods cooked in oil. Potato latkes are definitely a favorite, but other popular foods found at a Hanukkah party include fried fish, homemade corn dogs, doughnuts and sufganiyot, a round jelly-filled doughnut commonly eaten in Israel.
Here are some of the most common Hanukkah questions, answered.
When is Hanukkah 2023?
Hanukkah comes around each year on the 25th day of Kislev, a month in the Hebrew Calendar, usually coinciding with December. I know what you’re thinking, but no; this date has nothing to do with Christmas. In fact, most years, the 25th of Kislev lands somewhere between late November and early December.
This year, the first night of Hanukkah begins sundown on Sunday, December 7th and ends on Monday, December 15th.
The Hebrew calendar differs from the Gregorian calendar that we use today in a few areas, but the biggest is in regard to the new year. While Americans celebrate the new year on January 1, the Jewish calendar recognizes the fall as the start of the new year.
Is Hanukkah in the Torah?
Nope! Hanukkah is described in the Talmud, religious texts used for learning. It is described in the New Testament as being celebrated by Jesus and his disciples, and the full story is outlined in the ancient historical accounts of the Books of the Maccabees. Unlike Passover and Yom Kippur, Hanukkah is not a mandated holiday listed out in the Bible. But that doesn’t keep us from celebrating the themes and enjoying a happy Hanukkah! Even as Christians, there is so much meaning and symbolism in the holiday as we remember to be dedicated to Jesus.
Where does Jesus fit in Hanukkah?
Hanukkah extends beyond Judaism for a few reasons. John 10 recounts Jesus celebrating Hanukkah. But there’s also a much more meaningful connection.
First, Jesus was Jewish. So imagine if the Maccabees hadn’t won their fight with the Syrians. There would be no Jewish people and no savior from the line of David.
Also, Hanukkah points us to Jesus. For Messianics and Christians, the shamash candle represents Jesus, the one through whom light comes. Not only does he describe himself as the light of the world, but He also shares this invitation with His disciples. In Matthew 5, Jesus talks about being the light of the world. He describes his followers as lights in the world, instructing them to share their light with others.
Hanukkah is an invitation to rededicate ourselves to God, receive Jesus’s light, and share that light with others.
How do you say Happy Hanukkah?
You can extend holiday greetings in any of the following ways:
What Do I Do Now to Celebrate Hanukkah in 2023?
Ready to celebrate Hanukkah? Check out our Hanukkah guides, where you’ll find liturgy and information for each of the eight nights. You’ll also find info about Hanukkah recipes, music and movies.
Looking for a way to really interact this year? Check out our YouTube channel here to find a video for each night of the Holidays that tells you the Hanukkah story and helps you light the candles each night.
Got kids? Look for our kids guide to help your little ones get excited about the holiday.