To help mark the start of Hanukkah this week, here are five things to know about the Jewish holiday.
1. Hanukkah celebrates the reclaiming of the Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. The Temple had been desecrated by a conquering army. Worshippers prepared to rededicate the holy space but discovered that only one small jar of consecrated oil remained, enough to last one day. Rather than wait for more oil to arrive, they lit the Temple menorah, which burned for eight days.
2. The “miracle of the oil” is celebrated during Hanukkah with the ceremonial lighting of the hanukiah. Celebrants recite blessings each night, one before and one during the lighting. A third blessing, known as the Shehecheyanu, is recited or sung only on the first night of the festival just as it is on other special family occasions.
3. Hanukiah candles are lit in a particular order. The candle for the first night is put on the far-right side of the hanukiah. On each subsequent night, an additional candle is placed to the immediate left of the previous night’s candle — right to left, the direction in which Hebrew is read. The candles are then lit from left to right, beginning with the newest candle. Some families take this opportunity to explain more about their heritage and the symbolism behind the ritual.
4. Hanukkah’s date changes every year. The holiday is based on the Hebrew calendar, which means there is no set Gregorian date range for Hanukkah. The holiday generally starts in late November or December. In 2013, Hanukkah overlapped with Thanksgiving — a phenomenon that won’t happen again until 2070. This year, Hanukkah begins Thursday, Dec. 10.
5. The Postal Service has issued several Hanukkah stamps. The first stamp, a joint release with Israel Post, was issued in 1996 and shows colorful candles. Additional Hanukkah stamp designs were issued in 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016, along with another joint release with Israel Post in 2018. This year’s stamp illustrates the hanukiah’s lighting on the last evening of the holiday.