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Posted at 12:30 PM ET, 12/20/2011

Happy Hanukkah: The meaning behind the holiday

Rabbi Shmuel Marcus helps Helen Fox light a six-foot menorah in Seal Beach, Calif. (Cindy Yamanaka, - AP)
Tonight the Hanukkah celebration begins.

American children learn about Christmas traditions through, if by no other means, osmosis.

I didn’t realize that until one of our first family holiday seasons, when my husband and I began talking about how to approach sharing our Hanukkah and Christmas traditions. We were preempted by our 2-year-old who announced she’d learned about Santa the previous October.

Hanukkah is a different matter. Many of us aren’t even sure how to spell it (it also goes by Chanukah) or when it is (the date varies every year; this year it’s celebrated tonight through Dec. 28.).

As a non-Jewish parent who wants to learn more, I turned to two of my favorite sources — one for a kid-friendly version and the other for grown-ups.

The first comes courtesy of Elmo:

Here’s the grown-up version:

“Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BCE after the Temple had been profaned by the Hellenistic Emperor Antiochus IV.

At the time of the rededication, there was just one day’s worth of pure oil left that was needed to keep the Temple menorah burning. But tradition says a great miracle happened: It lasted for eight days.

Each year, Jews light candles in their hanukkiot (Hanukkah menorahs) to symbolize the miracle. On the first night of Hanukkah, one candle is placed in the menorah. On each successive night, another candle is added. By the last night of Hanukkah, eight candles are glowing brightly in celebration of this beautiful festival.

— Excerpted from “How Do I Celebrate Hanukkah,” on Beliefnet

Beliefnet has more on lighting menorah candles, Hanukkah prayers and games, and other traditions.

Happy Hanukkah!

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