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8 Facts You Might Not Know About Hanukkah

If you're somewhat familiar with Hanukkah but would like to know a little more, start by learning these Hanukkah facts.

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25th of Kislevnicomenijes/Getty Images

The Hebrew Calendar

This year, Hanukkah begins on December 10. In 2021, it will begin on November 28. One Hanukkah fact you might not know is that its timing is not based on the Gregorian calendar, unlike other winter holidays like New Year’s Day. While the holiday may seem to move around, it actually falls on the same day of the Hebrew calendar every year: the 25th of Kislev.

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Hanukkah in HebrewVictoria1988/Getty Images

How to Spell Hanukkah

Because Hanukkah is originally a Hebrew word, the English spelling varies from person to person. My Jewish Learning explains that the eighth letter of the Hebrew alphabet, chet, has no English equivalent, so you may see it translated “with a h, ch or kh.” Hanukkah is the most common spelling today, but you may see Chanukah, Hanukah or another variation.

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Hanukkah Means Dedication

After the Maccabees’ victory in 165 B.C.E., the Temple in Jerusalem was rededicated, according to the Union for Reform Judaism. The Festival of Lights uses candles to remember and celebrate that rededication.

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TorahJan Hakan Dahlstrom/Getty Images

Hanukkah Is a Relatively Recent Holiday

The Maccabees’ victory happened long after the Torah was written, according to the history.com editors, so Hanukkah does not appear in it. A feast of dedication does, however, appear in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. And the Maccabees do appear in the Apocrypha, which is a collection of texts not included in the Hebrew Bible.

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Thanksgiving turkeyCrystal Sing / EyeEm/Getty Images

Sometimes It Coincides With Thanksgiving

Because the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars don’t line up perfectly, the dates of Hanukkah change every year. Sometimes it’s in December. Sometimes it’s in November. Once in a great while, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah happen at the same time. My Jewish Learning says that the first night of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving on November 27, 2070.

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Lighting the menorahtovfla/Getty Images

Hanukkah Candle Facts

The number of candles in a menorah is a commonly known Hanukkah fact. But did you know how to light them? For someone whose family does not celebrate Hanukkah, it might seem like the candle lighting should go from left to right, like reading a book. That is not the case. The outer right candle is the first. Then, you light one to the left for each night of Hanukkah.

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MenorahYellow Dog Productions/Getty Images

The Menorah Is Not a Source of Light

The Union for Reform Judaism explains that the lights in a Menorah are holy, so the Hanukkah candles are not meant for practical use, such as working or reading. In fact, a ninth candle, or shammash, is used to light the others.

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The Story of Judith

The National Jewish Outreach Program says that, in addition to oily foods like latkes, many people eat dairy during Hanukkah to honor the heroine Judith. She offered cheese to an enemy general to make him let his guard down. Judith’s story takes place centuries before that of the Maccabees, but Judah Maccabee may be one of her descendants, says National Public Radio. Judith’s story might be the least known Hanukkah fact on this list.