How do you spell Hanukkah? The Hebrew word, Hanukkah is transliterated into English in a number of ways. The most common transliterations are Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hanukka. But don’t forget, Hanukkah is spelled het, nun, vav, kaf, hey.
Hanukkah, the eight-day festival of lights, is a Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” The name refers to the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after its recapture from the Greeks by the Maccabees in 164 B.C.E. The basis of the traditional celebration of Hanukkah is this story of the Maccabean victory, recorded in the Book of Maccabees, embellished by Talmudic legend.
When Antiochus IV of the Seleucid dynasty ordered Mattathias Maccabee to sacrifice to the Greek gods, he refused to do so. A small band of Jews under the leadership of Mattathias’ son, Judah Maccabee, rebelled. The Greeks ultimately were forced to withdraw from Jerusalem and the Maccabees established an independent Jewish state known as the Hasmonean kingdom. Following their recapture of Jerusalem, the victorious Jews, upon reconsecrating the desecrated Temple to Yahveh, their God, decreed an annual celebration of Jewish independence, corresponding to the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar.
But Hanukkah originated long before the Maccabean victory. Its roots lie in the primitive winter festival of lights, Nayrot. As the days grew shorter, people feared that the sun was dying and that the world would be plunged into eternal darkness and death. In an effort to coax the sun back to life, they kindled fires at the time of the solstice. When the solstice passed, daylight increased and people rejoiced in the rejuvenation of the sun. Nayrot was a celebration of the triumph of light and life over winter’s darkness and despair. This popular winter festival became a week-long period of revelry and suspense that preceded the day of the sun’s renewal. Marked by gaiety and gift-giving, the celebration served to dispel the seasonal darkness and gloom.
Although the Maccabean victory actually occurred two months before the solstice, the coupling of Hanukkah and Nayrot ensured the survival of the Maccabean celebration. Some six hundred years after the Maccab