During the celebration of Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Light, each night another candle on the Menorah is lit. One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second and so forth. On the eighth night, all eight candles are lit. In addition to the eight candles, there is usually one additional candle called a “Shamash” or “Shammus.” This candle is set either higher or lower than the other eight. The significance of the Shamash is that it serves to remind that the Menorah candles are not to be used as a source of light or for any other productive purpose.
Some families choose to light the Shamash first and then use it to light the other candles. It’s customary in most Jewish homes that each night, a different member of the family lights the candles. The lighting of the candles always starts from the right and moves to the left.
Although Hanukkah’s celebration of the Temple’s rededication acknowledges that the event isn’t without violence and wars, Jews do not celebrate or glorify the violence of the event. Many, if not most, celebrate only the Miracle of the Oil during Hanukkah. The Miracle of the Oil is where upon ousting the Greeks from the Temple, the Maccabees had only one day’s worth of oil left, yet it burned for a full eight days. Eight days was exactly the amount of time needed to produce a new supply of oil for the Menorah.
Even so, while many families have their own traditions as to how to light the Menorah and which verses or prayers to sing or read, some alternative celebrations of Hanukkah tend to separate the eight days into individual celebrations of the entire event of the Maccabee’s reclamation of the Temple. These include:
The First Night of Hanukkah – The first night of Hanukkah is used as a time to reflect on the revolt of Judas Maccabeus. The Verse that is read is 2 Maccabees 8:1-11.
The Second Night of Hanukkah – On the second night, the Menorah is lit in honor of the preparation of the upcoming battle. Verse - 2 Maccabees 8:12-20.
The Third Night of Hanukkah – The third night is a celebration for the defeat of Nicanor. Verse - 2 Maccabees 8:21-29.
The Fourth Night of Hanukkah – The fourth night signifies Judah’s defeat of Timothy and Bacchides. Verse – 2 Maccabees 8: 30-36.
The Fifth Night of Hanukkah – Night number five celebrates the last campaign of Antiochus Epiphanes. Verse – 2 Maccabees 9: 1-12.
The Sixth Night of Hanukkah – The sixth night of Hanukkah celebrates the promise that Antiochus made to God. Verse – 2 Maccabees 9: 13-18.
The Seventh Night of Hanukkah – On the seventh night, the death and letters of Antiochus are signified. Verse – 2 Maccabees 9: 19-29.
The Eighth Night of Hanukkah – The final night of Hanukkah is a time to rejoice the Purification of the Temple. Verse – 2 Maccabees 10: 1-9.
During the eight nights of Hanukkah, it has also become customary for adults to present their young children with one gift each night. This is a relatively new custom, which not all Jewish families follow. It was started as a way to counteract their children’s jealousy over the fact that many of their Christian friends received gifts on Christmas. Traditionally, the only gifts that were given on Hanukkah, was when a child was given “gelt” (small amounts of money) by a family member.
To read more about Hanukkah’s rituals, significance, songs or games, be sure to check out our other articles related to the celebration of Hanukkah.
Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion - writing.