Two candles make the difference between a menorah and a hanukkiah. There are 16 ways to spell Hanukkah, but Chanukah is the most popular alternative. It’s older than Christmas by at least 170 years, but it didn’t become widely celebrated until the 1800s.
One observance and a few differences blend together for eight very bright days in December. However you spell it, the Jewish Festival of Lights is a special holiday. If you already celebrate Hanukkah, you understand. If you’re not familiar with its story, take another look at the candles.
The seven lights on a Temple menorah represent the seven days of creation and the branches of human knowledge. The hanukkiah we see in windows each December has eight candle branches with a single taller stem in the center.
Under the ancient rule of Syrian King Antiochus, the Jewish people were persecuted without mercy. They were forced to worship Greek gods. Their children were forbidden to study the Torah, and their customs were declared illegal. In 160 B.C., they rose up in defiance of their oppressor.
The Jewish rebels prevailed after seven long years, but they found their sacred temple had been desecrated. They were determined to rededicate their place of worship, so they lit a menorah. It was meant to burn day and night, but the exhausted rebels only had enough oil for one day.
The temple menorah stayed lit and burned brightly for eight days. Each candle on the traditional hanukkiah symbolizes one of those eight days centuries ago when the Jewish temple was blessed with the miracle of light.
Spelling doesn’t matter. It’s a matter of phonetic interpretation. The number of candles does matter. Their lighting during Hanukkah stands as a testament to the human spirit. No matter how much darkness might come upon us, our spirits will always prevail especially during the Festival of Lights.