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Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish celebration. Its date changes from year to year, but it always takes place either in November or December. It lasts for eight days and is celebrated by Jews around the world.
The most important part of Hanukkah is the lighting of the menorah (a special candleholder used in Jewish ceremonies). For Hanukkah, there is a special menorah with nine candles. Eight of the candles represent the eight days of the festival. The ninth candle is used to light the other eight. On the first day, only one candle is lit, on the second day, two candles, and so on, until all the candles are lit on the last day. The candles are lit at sunset and should burn for at least half an hour. They are usually put at a door or a window so that people can see them from outside.
The history behind the festival
The festival celebrates when a group of Jews won back a temple from the Greeks in the second century BC. They made a new menorah to replace the one that had been broken. But when they went to light it, they could only find one small bowl of the special oil they needed. There was only enough oil to last one night but they knew it would take them eight days to prepare more. They lit the lamps with the oil on that first night, thinking it would burn for just one night. But the oil lasted for another seven nights and this event gave birth to Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights.
Special Hanukkah food
Oil is an important part of the Hanukkah celebrations and all kinds of food made with oil are eaten on the eight days. In central and eastern Europe they make latke, fried potato pancakes, that they eat with apple sauce or sour cream. The favourite treat in Israel is sufganiyot (doughnuts filled with strawberry jam). Other popular festival foods include apple cakes and pretzels (bread made in the shape of a knot).
Celebrating with family and friends
Family and friends are very important during the festival. It's traditional to invite people to your home to have dinner and to play games together. The most traditional game is played with a dreidel, a wooden spinning top with four sides. There are four Hebrew letters on the four sides and, depending on which letter your top lands on, you win or lose. The game is usually played with nuts and dried fruit and sweets.
Lots of families give presents during the festival, especially to children. These are often games that the whole family can play together or books and other small gifts. It is also a tradition to give money to children (Hanukkah gelt) and to encourage them to donate some of their money to good causes.