Chanukah, the Jewish festival of rededication, also known as the festival of lights, is an eight day festival beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. This year, that day is December 12th.
Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus II and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil". According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire , there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
One of the main rituals of Hanukkah is the lighting of the Menorah. The menorah is a candlabra that holds eight candles. One candle is lit each night, and some light also those lit the previous night. One additional candle sits distinctly in the centre. This candle is called a samash, or guard. Often it is lit first, and then used to light the other candles. The candles will burn after dark, and should burn for at least one hour. At the time of candle-lighting blessings are recited.
Other traditions for this festival period including the cooking and consupmtion of fried foods. This is again related to the miracle of the oil. Most common are potato latkes, otherwise known as potato pancakes. These may be followed up with jam-filled doughnuts.
The dreidl is a fun Hanukkah past-time. It is a gambling game, where every player starts with a certain number of coins or markers. Players throw one into the pot, and the dreidl is then spun by the first player. Depending on the symbol which shows on the driedl once it has come to a rest, the player will win the whole pot, half the pot, none of the pot, or contributes another marker to the pot. The game continues until one player as all the markers.
Beautiful examples of dreidles can be found on etsy in the shop of LevSneiderman.
The giving of gelt is intended to make the holiday more enjoyable for children. The children are given coins by their relatives. In modern times, gelt have become available in a chocolate varient.
The giving of Hanukkah gifts is not traditional, but has become more commonplace. Gifts are typically small, although some families will give one large gift on the first or second night of Hanukkah, with smaller gifts for the remaining days.