When is the first day of Hanukkah and how is it celebrated? All about the Festival of Lights

Hanukkah is a joyful occasion also known as the Festival of Lights. Starting at sundown on Thursday, Dec. 7, many metro Phoenix residents will celebrate for eight days until sundown on Friday, Dec. 15.

Hanukkah is rich with history, symbolism and traditional foods. Families will light menorahs and feast on latkes and sweet treats, including jelly-filled doughnuts. These traditions recall the episode in history when Judah Maccabeus and his small army retook a temple during the Maccabean Revolt in 165 B.C.

Here are things to know about Hanukkah, including when it's celebrated and the meaning behind the menorah.

Hanukkah events in metro Phoenix: Where to celebrate the 2023 Festival of Lights

When is Hanukkah?

Hanukkah can begin any time between Nov. 28 and Dec. 26. The variation is a result of the Jewish calendar being based on the lunar cycle, so its dates vary in comparison with other calendars. Hanukkah starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the Jewish calendar.

When is the first night of Hanukkah 2023?

Hanukkah 2023 starts on Dec. 7.

When does Hanukkah 2023 end?

Hanukkah 2023 ends on Dec. 15.

When is Hanukkah 2024?

In 2024, Hanukkah will start on Dec. 25 and run through Jan. 2.

Why do Jews celebrate Hanukkah?

Hanukkah is not a Jewish Christmas, first of all. Christmas and Hanukkah often overlap (though not this year) and there are gifts involved, but that’s where the similarities end.

Hanukkah celebrates the rededication (Hanukkah means dedication or consecration in Hebrew) of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabee revolt in 165 B.C. against Greek-Syrian rule. The temple had been defiled by occupying forces before it was liberated by a small army led by Judah the Maccabee.

According to Chabad.org, the celebration is sometimes referred to as the Festival of Lights because when the Jewish people retook the temple, they found just one bottle of oil to light the menorah (a seven-branched candelabrum) that had not been contaminated. They thought that would only be enough oil for one day’s worth of light but it lasted for the eight days it took to prepare more purified oil.

What is the meaning behind a menorah?

Actually, the type of candelabrum used for Hanukkah celebrations is called a hanukkiah. It has nine branches. Eight branches of the hanukkiah signify the eight days that the oil lasted in the temple. The ninth branch, usually elevated slightly above the others, holds the candle that's used to light the others.

What's the correct spelling: Hanukkah or Chanukah?

You've probably seen the word spelled in a variety of ways. The most common acceptable variations are Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah and Chanukkah. Some of the confusion stems from the transliteration of the word from the Hebrew alphabet into English.

How important is Hanukkah?

In a 2016 interview with The Arizona Republic, Arthur Lavinsky, the now-retired rabbi of the Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, said Hanukkah is a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. He said the celebration is “wonderful and joyous” but does not compare in holiness to holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish new year) or Yom Kippur (the day of atonement).

He said the proximity of Hanukkah to Christmas plays a role in the attention it receives in our society.

What does gift-giving have to do with Hanukkah?

The custom of giving gifts is relatively recent, having become more popular in the 20th century. Lavinsky said the influence of Christmas played a role in gifts becoming a part of Hanukkah celebrations in recent years.

“Cultures tend to borrow from one another,” he said, mentioning Judaism’s influence on the Christian rite of baptism.

What are traditional Hanukkah foods?

Fried foods are part of Hanukkah traditions because of the significance of oil to the celebration.

Latkes, a potato pancake, are popular during Hanukkah. Jelly-filled doughnuts known as sufganiyot and other sweet treats are popular as well.

Other foods traditionally served during Hanukkah include applesauce, rugelach and blintzes.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: When is Hanukkah and how is it celebrated? What to know about Chanukah