HANUKKAH – How To Celebrate


~ Keren Hannah Pryor 

Ancient Jewish writings describe a delightful exchange between God and His people:

ISRAEL:  God, You illuminated the whole universe and then tell us to light the menorah?
GOD:  The little lights of your menorah are more precious to me than the lights of all the stars I have placed in the sky.

For You light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness. 
(Psalm 18:28)

What generally comes to mind when one thinks of Hanukkah,especially if you’re a child, is the lighting of many candles, gifts, fun games, sizzling latkes (grated potato fritters) and mounds of big, sugarcoated, jelly, chocolate, or caramel-filled doughnuts! Not a bad beginning (except for the waistline), but these are merely the trimmings. Probably Yeshua did not have these things in mind when he celebrated this “Feast of Dedication,” as it is also called (John 10:22). There is a profoundly rich spiritual core to the festival of Hanukkah; the ‘fun’ elements, however, help imprint the spiritual truths in the minds of the young and can certainly also be enjoyed by the not so young!

A wide assortment of hanukkiahs (special nine-branched Hannukah menorahs), as well as candles, are available for purchase on any Judaica website, or they are very simple to create at home. For example, one can use Play Dough, or bottle caps stuck on a wooden or cardboard base and painted, and birthday cake candles. Or simply arrange eight tea lights on a tray and add decorations. The ninth shammash, or servant, candle should be higher than the others or set slightly apart, to the front or side.

A selection of old brass hanukkiot from the collection of Avraham Ticho.



The candles are usually lit at nightfall but, if it is necessary to wait for family members to gather, any time during the night is fine. Although it will be a challenge this year of 2020, the main consideration is to have as many of one’s family, as well as friends, together as possible to enjoy the experience on any given night.

Ideally, the candles should burn for 30 minutes; during which time no work should be done – and the TV should be switched off! The blessings are said, songs can be sung, gifts given, a story read, [See my collection of 8 Stories for Hanukkah], food enjoyed and games played. It’s time to remember and celebrate the miracles of our God and to appreciate the miracle of one another.


A major lesson of Hanukkah is one that Yeshua illustrated well in his teaching:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14-16)

In Israel, many people light candles outside their doors in special glass boxes built to house their hanukkiah. The beautiful one pictured below, of the lion and the lamb, was seen in the Old City of Jerusalem.


More often the hanukkkiah is lit in a window indoors and facing a public street if possible. If for some reason the hanukkiah cannot be lit at a window, it may be lit inside the house on a table, where its light shines forth upon the members of the household.

Note: As the Hanukkah candles should be left to burn down each night, you will need a total of 44 candles – 36 plus 8 shammash candles.



1st Night

On the first night, place the shammash in position and one candle at the far right, as you face the hanukkiah. Light the shammash, recite the first two blessings, and use the shammash to light the candle. Then say the third blessing and prayer, followed by a song – Ma’oz Tzur, or one of your choice.

The Blessings:

The first two blessings are said after lighting the shammash and immediately prior to lighting the candles:

Blessing 1

Hanukkah Blessing 1Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, Ve-tzi-vanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.

Blessing 2

Hanukkah blessing_2Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Sheh’assa nissim la-avo-teinu, Ba’yamim ha-hem ba’zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.

Blessing 3

This blessing is said on the first night only.

Hanukkah blessing_3

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Sheh-heh-chi’yanu ve-ki’yimanu Ve-higi’yanu la’zman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.

Hanukkah Prayer – Al Hanissim

For all the miracles you perform and for Your great salvations, and for the victories in the battles that You enabled our fathers to achieve years ago at this time,
we thank You God, our Father.

In the time of the Maccabees, when the evil Seleucid kingdom rose up
against Your people Israel
to make them forget the teachings of Your Torah and to lead them away from Your will,
You, in Your abundant mercy, stood up for them in their time of need.
You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few,
the wicked into the hands of the righteous.
And for Your people Israel You caused great victory and salvation on this day.
Then they turned to Your Sanctuary and cleansed Your Temple
and relit the lights in Your Holy Place.
You kept the lights burning for eight days,
and they established these eight days of Hanukkah
in order to thank You and to praise Your great Name. [1]

After lighting the candles and reciting the above, it is a stirring and heartwarming experience to sing together in praise of our God and Lord. Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages) is the traditional song that is sung, if known (worth learning if not). Others come to mind, such as ‘Thy Word is a Lamp unto my Feet.’

2nd Night

On the second night place candles in the two far-right positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light the candles, lighting the left one first.

Note: Always light the newest candle first.

3rd Night

On the third night place three candles in the three right hand positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light them in order, from left to right.

Follow this same procedure each night of Hanukkah… until all the lights are kindled and glowing brightly on the eighth night!

The Al Ha’nissim prayer can be recited and Ma’oz Tzur sung each night after lighting. A good tradition is to make time to read a special, inspiring Hanukkah story aloud each night. A selection of eight Hanukkah stories for children , which can also be enjoyed by the not-so-young is provided..

Light of the Spirit

As we noted last week, the nine candles beautifully reflect the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. The first is Love, perfectly represented by the shammash candle, the Servant, by which each of the others is lit. Each night the corresponding ‘fruit’ can be mentioned and reflected upon. How is it growing in our lives? How am I evidencing joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in my deeds? Their light will only shine in me if it is lit by the love of the Lord – our Shammash.


The traditional, fun game to play at Hanukkah is the Dreidel game! Judaism does not at all encourage gambling, but this is one ‘gambling’ game that is enjoyed each year. Historically, during times of persecution when the study of Hebrew and Torah was forbidden, Jewish children would learn with a teacher anyway. When soldiers would investigate, they would spin a dreidel they kept handy and pretend to be playing a local game. As it was a game of chance involving money, they would have coins on the table too. However, the actual purpose for these was to pay their usually impoverished Hebrew teacher! Interestingly, the word Hanukkah and the Hebrew word for education, chinukh, have the same root letters.

A dreidel (Yiddish – rhymes with cradle), or a sevivon in Hebrew, is a small four-sided spinning top. Traditionally, the letters on the four sides of the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hey, shin, which are the first letters of Nes Gadol Haya Sham – “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Since the restoration of the State of Israel, the last letter is replaced with a pey, for Poh, meaning ‘Here’. As the miracle of God’s light has happened in each of our lives, poh – ‘here’ – seems to be the better alternative. Nes Gadol Haya Poh!

Colorful collection of dreidels!

To play the game, players can use chocolate coins, or use pennies, buttons or cardboard pieces as tokens. Each player puts one into the “pot” in the center. If a small number are playing put in two or three each. The first player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When the dreidel stops, the letter facing up determines:

Homemade dreidels are easy to make. Cut cardboard into two inch squares. Draw diagonal lines on back. Make a hole in the center with a pin. Decorate the face of the square including the four letters and/or words. Insert a toothpick and push through about one-third of the length of the toothpick. That’s it. Spin away!

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1) Invitations. Invite family and friends for one or more of the nights of Hanukkah. Good way to catch up with everyone! Stipulate date and time.

2) Hanukkiah menorah and candles. Start the party off with candle-lighting, to make the room glow brightly.

3) Dreidels – for spinning contests, and chocolate coins or tokens (that can be used to ‘redeem’ M&Ms or other candies/prizes)!

4) Printed sheets with blessings and songs for the participants, if possible.

5) As a quieter time of inspiration in the candlelight, have someone read a Hanukkah story out loud. [See post – Eight Stories for Hanukkah].

6) Share words from Scripture – e.g., read a Psalm [30, 115 – 117; excerpts from118 & 119]; 1 Chronicles 16:8-13; Zechariah 4 & 14, excerpts from Matthew 2 & 5, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:8-14.

7) Small gifts to exchange (limit cost e.g. $5-). Each person brings one. Put them all in a pile, and choose numbers to see who gets to pick first!

8) Eats! Include “oily” items such as doughnuts (once-a-year treat!), latkes – grated potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream.

Creative Israeli sufganiot / doughnuts!

Enjoy – as we celebrate the Light that broke into our darkness!

The Lord is good, and He has given us light …
(Psalm 118:27)



1. Based on prayer in Celebration – The Book of Jewish Festivals, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.. NY, 1987, p 58.
2. Based on prayer in The Heavenly Party, Michele Guiness, Monarch Books, 2007, p.152

HANUKKAH – Background and Insights


~ Keren Hannah Pryor

The world was created in seven days; therefore, in Hebraic thinking, the number seven represents the perfection or completion of a cycle and also the natural realm that we experience with our physical senses. The number eight, which follows, indicates a new beginning and also takes one beyond the limits of the senses and signifies the transcendent, unseen spiritual realm. We are aware of this spiritual dimension, and can be emotionally moved and mentally stirred by, but it is one we cannot physically reach out and touch. It can only be ‘seen’ with eyes of faith and with the heart. The festival of Hanukkah challenges us to see beyond the temporal reality of our circumstances and to grasp the reality of the transcendent; to focus on that which will endure for eternity.

The eight days of Hanukkah are thus extraordinary days, during which we are given the opportunity to “see the light” both physically and spiritually. We are encouraged to look both within and beyond ourselves, and to deepen our understanding of God’s eternal Kingdom. Each night, as we light a growing number of little dancing lights, we see their combined light grow in radiance and beauty. They call us to aim for greater unity and harmony between the transcendent and the worldly, the holy and the mundane, the spiritual and the physical.

Two important themes clearly emerge as one explores and experiences the festival. One illustrates the power inherent in a diminutive flame to banish a world of darkness, and another reminds us that there is an indomitable flame in the spirit that enables people to reach far beyond their perceived natural limitations.

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For with You is the fountain of life;
in Your light we see light (Psalm 36:9).



The seven-branched Menorah was lit by the High Priest every morning and evening, first in the Tabernacle and then, once it was built by King Solomon, in the House of God, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. The perpetually burning flames reflected the light of the Presence of God and of His Word. Throughout history, great nations have sought to overcome and even extinguish this light together with the Covenant people of God. Hanukkah relives the story of one such attempt and celebrates the victory of a small Jewish band of men who stood up for the God of Israel against impossible odds and, with His sovereign help, overcame the enemy and restored the light to His House.

In the year 175 B.C., the mighty Greco-Syrian army took control of Judea, under the leadership of Antiochus IV. By 168 B.C. the Holy Temple was desecrated, the worship of Israel’s God was forbidden by law, and the values and lifestyle of Hellenism were enforced – on pain of death. Many Jews willingly embraced the Hellenistic way of life and assimilated as thoroughly as possible, which expedited their acceptance and ability to function successfully within the new system. There were many God-fearing Jews, however, who chose to remain faithful to the ways of the Hebrew Scriptures and readily gave their lives rather than submit to the yoke of man-exalting Hellenism.

One small family, an elderly kohen (priest), Mattitiyahu (a son of the High Priest,Yochanan) and his grown sons, lived in the village of Modi’in not far from Jerusalem. They stood firm in the face of the tyranny and refused to bow down to the false gods. More and more faithful Jews rallied around them, until the tiny rag-tag band, who became known as the Maccabees, challenged the might of the Greco-Syrian army. Their intimate knowledge of the terrain was a great benefit but their main strength was the awareness of God’s presence with them.

Although it is not the primary focus, the political/historical reality we celebrate at Hanukkah is the fact that the Maccabees defeated their foe, an army vastly superior in might, numbers, training and equipment. (The story is well recorded in the First Book of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.) After four hundred years of repression and persecution, the fact that the Judean state thus created was able to exist in relative independence for another two hundred years, while confronting a hostile world on equal terms, was a miracle in itself.

Rabbinic literature almost totally ignores the military triumph of the Maccabees and emphasizes instead the miracle of the Temple menorah. A chief priority for the Maccabees, when they began to reclaim and restore their land after their victory, was to cleanse and rededicate the Temple in Jerusalem.

The beautiful  golden menorah in the Old City, Jerusalem – a replica of the original,
waiting to be placed in the Holy Place of the Temple.

The root of the Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication. The sign of dedication, and the symbol of God’s Presence in His House, was the lighting of the golden, seven-branched Menorah in the Holy Place. The Maccabees found only one flask of uncontaminated oil fit for use in the lighting – enough for one day. It would take another week for the preparation, according to biblical standards, of more pure olive oil. So eager were they to restore the light to the Temple that they decided in faith to use what they had. What joy arose as the blessings were sung, and one by one the seven lights were lit and their radiance grew to bear shining witness to the presence of YHWH, the God of Israel, in their midst.

They had done all in their power to restore His light to the darkened Temple. Now the Eternal, the Source of all Light, intervened and the flames of the Menorah kept burning day after day, for the next seven days, until the fresh store of oil was prepared. Thus, in 164 BC, at the rededication of the Temple, the festival of Hanukkah was inaugurated. The nine-branched menorah (the hanukkiah) is lit to commemorate the victory of light over darkness, and the miracle of the oil that kept burning for eight days.

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The fuel for the Menorah was the purest of olive oil, which was also used to anoint kings and priests. The prophet Zechariah’s vision of a menorah flanked by two olive branches, which provided oil for the lighting of the seven lamps, is illustrated both by the hanukkiah and on the emblem of the restored State of Israel (seen above).

The two additional biblical Feasts, which are not listed in the Torah but are found in the book of Esther and referenced in the book of John, are Purim, which occurs before Passover (the first set Feast in Leviticus 23) and Hanukkah, which occurs after Sukkot or Tabernacles (the last set Feast). The two thus add two branches, as it were, to the ‘menorah’ of the seven Feasts and provide a nine-branched hanukkiah. Both Purim and Hanukkah tell of the threat of extinction of the Jewish people and God’s miraculous intervention on their behalf, which is subtle and hidden at Purim but shines brightly at Hanukkah.

When Zechariah asked for the meaning of his vision of the menorah and two olive branches, the angel of the Lord replied with seven Hebrew words:

Loh be’chayil ve’loh be’choakh ki im b’Ruchi. “Not by might nor by power but by My Spirit,” [says the Lord of Hosts] (Zechariah 4:6).

God is diligently watching over His Word to perform it, and if we as His Covenant people, both Israel and those from the nations who stand with her, are to shine His light into the world it must be with the power and anointing of His Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh. He provides the oil for our lamps.


Interestingly, the nine branches of the hanukkiah can be linked with the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit in Galatians 5:22;

Joy, peace, patience, kindness,  love,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control.

The shammash (servant) candle, usually situated in the center, aligns with ‘love’. Love is the heart of the spiritual fruit that we want to be growing in our lives, through which we demonstrate the life of the One Who is Love. We can call to mind Paul’s outstanding chapter on the importance of love, 1 Corinthians 1, where he says for example:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (13:2)

When we light the lights each night we are reminded that Love lights all the others. As we participate with the Holy Spirit, in the love of Yeshua, the fruit of holiness will grow in our lives and, as a result, more of His light of truth and life will shine through us into the darkness of the world. The ways of this present, polluted age lead to meaninglessness, passivity and despair. They produce a bentness and brokenness, as opposed to standing upright in faith and walking confidently with the Lord in His ways. As did the Maccabees of old, the assurance we have is that we are not alone! We do not rely on our own might or power, but on the enabling and the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

Traditionally, the hanukkiah is placed in a window or sometimes, as in the Old City of Jerusalem, outside the door to show that the light is not to be enjoyed by us alone but can shine like a beacon outwards to others. By the Spirit of the One true, living God, imparted to all in Yeshua, we can be transformed and reflect the image of God in which we were created.

As we become more and more like Him, His glory will shine all the more into the world, bringing hope to the weary and despairing, holiness to the mundane, and the eternal to the passing and temporary.

It is a daunting responsibility to be the bearers of His glory, His light, but it is a challenge the people of God must willingly and gratefully accept. Light will always dispel the darkness.

Leanne Payne, founder of Pastoral Care Ministries, expresses this concept beautifully:

There is the Absolute – ultimate truth and reality. To know and be in fellowship with God is not only to know the Real, but it is to gain the capacity to bring our lives into alignment with it. Our lives then take on the characteristics of that which is true, noble, and just
…and we become Lights!

 Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
(Matthew 5:14;16)

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