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When is Hanukkah, and How Should I Spell It?


Return to Guide to Hanukkah for Interfaith Families.

Luckily, the Leevees have put this spelling frustration to music, appropriate for all ages.

Hanukkah is the 25th of Kislev, which is the third month in the Jewish calendar. That's why people speak of Hanukkah coinciding with Christmas: the Jewish calendar and the secular or Gregorian calendar do not overlap precisely. The secular calendar is a solar calendar, so that important dates always fall in the same season of the year. The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar, so that holidays will fall both at the same phase of the moon and at the same season. The problem with both calendars is that it's hard to have months the right length for moon phases coinciding with four seasons, each three months long. In order for the Gregorian calendar to work, there is a leap year every four years in which February gets an extra day. In order for the Hebrew calendar to work, there is a leap year seven times within nineteen years in which one whole month gets added.

Hence the problem of when Hanukkah falls in relation to Christmas. Because Hanukkah has taken a prominent place in North American secular culture as Jews have become more visible, many secular calendars that don't list more religiously significant holidays will print the dates of Hanukkah. If yours doesn't, try

If you think the explanation of the calendar was complicated, wait until you hear about spelling. Hanukkah does not have a single spelling in English. That's because the English is the transliteration of a Hebrew word that starts with a consonant that has no full equivalent in English. It's a heavy h sound, like the ch in Loch Ness or the x in the Spanish pronunciation of Mexico. Some have tried to write this Chanukah, or Chanuka, but sometimes that makes people think it should be Cheerful Chanukah. If you can't make that throat-clearing first consonant, so useful in Hebrew, German, Dutch and Spanish, have a heart and a Happy Hanukkah. Don't feel bad if the variations in spelling drive you crazy--it's part of the experience.

Hanukkah (known by many spellings) is an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd Century BCE. It is marked by the lighting of a menorah and the eating of fried foods. A language of West Semitic origins, culturally considered to be the language of the Jewish people. Ancient or Classical Hebrew is the language of Jewish prayer or study. Modern Hebrew was developed in the late-19th and early 20th centuries as a revival language; today it is spoken by most Israelis.

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