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The list: 8 facts about Hanukkah

Girl lighting menorah
Hanukkah’s origin is celebrated through the ritual lighting of the menorah.

Hanukkah, the subject of a new stamp from USPS, begins Sunday, Dec. 2, at sundown. Here are eight things to know about the holiday.

1. Hanukkah celebrates a military victory and a miracle. The eight-day observance commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple of Jerusalem by the Maccabees after their victory over the Syrian-Greeks during the second century B.C. When the Maccabees began preparing the rededication, they discovered they only had enough sacramental oil to light the temple for one night. However, the oil lasted eight days, which is celebrated during Hanukkah with the ritual lighting of the menorah.

2. The holiday has other names — and spellings. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, is also known as the Festival of Lights, the Feast of Dedication and the Feast of Maccabees. The Hebrew word doesn’t have an exact English equivalent, so it isn’t unusual to see the holiday spelled different ways, such as Chanukah.

3. Menorahs have nine branches. The menorah has eight branches that hold candles representing each of the eight days and nights of Hanukkah. The ninth branch is typically placed above the others and its candle is lit first, then used to light the subsequent candles.

4. Oil isn’t just for menorahs. It’s for food, too. Traditional Hanukkah dishes include latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (doughnuts) that are fried in oil to celebrate the one-day supply of oil that lasted eight days.

5. Don’t forget the gelt! A typical gift for children on Hanukkah is “gelt” — money that often takes the edible form of foil-wrapped chocolate coins.

6. Dreidels have a lot of history. The dreidel, a four-sided spinning top, is used in games played during Hanukkah. According to tradition, before the Maccabees revolted, it was illegal for Jewish people to read the Torah so they would study the holy text while pretending to gamble with spinning tops.

7. Hanukkah’s date changes every year. The holiday is based on the Hebrew calendar, which means there is no set Gregorian date range for Hanukkah. The holiday generally starts in late November or December. In 2013, Hanukkah overlapped with Thanksgiving — a phenomenon that won’t happen again until 2070.

8. USPS has issued several Hanukkah stamps. The first stamp, a joint release with Israel Post, was issued in 1996 and shows colorful candles in a menorah. Additional Hanukkah stamp designs were issued in 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016. This year’s stamp, another joint release with Israel Post, was created using the techniques of papercutting, a Jewish folk art.

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