The holiday is observed for eight nights and days, and because it starts on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew Calendar, it can fall anywhere from late November to late December on the Gregorian calendar.
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In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks) who tried to force the people of Isreal to accept Greek culture and beliefs, when a small band of poorly armed Jews who were led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated the mighty army and they reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
When oil was needed to light the menorah in the temple, only a little oil was found. Just enough for one night, but miraculously it burned for eight days and nights until new oil could be prepared. To commemorate the miracle of the oil, the festival of Chanukah was instituted.
To learn more about the history behind Chanuka, visit Chabad.org.
Chanukah is known for the lighting of candles for eight days. Many people incorrectly refer to the candelabrum as a menorah. The name menorah is only used to describe the seven-branched candelabrum that was housed in the Jewish Temple. The Hanukkiah is a nine candle candelabrum that has a candle for each of the eight nights plus a shamash (attendant) which is used to light the other candles.
More information can be found at the Jewish Virtual Library