By Nathaniel Finestone
In 2022 Hanukkah took place between December 18-26. In 2021 it took place between November 28 and December 6, the year before that it was December 10-18 and the year before that it was December 22-30. Some of you might be wondering, why is it always eight days? And why aren’t they the same days every year like Christmas or at least within the same week like Easter and most statutory holidays?
To answer that we have to go back to approximately 2500 years ago when the Kingdom of Judea (modern day Israel and Palestine) was under occupation by Hellenic Greeks. While the Greeks never sought to destroy the Jews under their rule (unlike many other conquerors before and since) they sought to displace Judaism as the dominant religion of the people and sacked the holy temple in Jerusalem. In response to this the Maccabi family led a successful Jewish rebellion against the much larger and well supplied Greek army. While a full victory would take many more years, when the Maccabis took back Jerusalem and went to rededicate the Holy Temple, they found there was only enough oil to last for one night. Travel times being what they were in those days the nearest source of oil was four days away so they would have to wait 8 days (four days there and four days back) until they could fully rededicated the temple. But then there was a miracle and the oil lasted for the full eight days. So now every winter, Jews all over the world light candles to commemorate that miracle and to celebrate the survival of our religion and culture.
But why aren’t they the same eight days every year? The short version is that they are, just not on our modern calendar. The Jewish calendar is different from the standard Gregorian calendar used all around the world today. Whereas the standard calendar uses the rotation of the earth around the sun to count out 365 days a year divided into 12 months, with an extra leap day to keep it on track, The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, using each full moon to delineate the new month. But this presents a problem, what about those extra days? A lunar calendar will cycle through 12 months in around 354 days so without any kind of intervention holidays would get earlier and earlier each year. So the rabbis of yore intervened.
Every four years the Jewish calendar will add an entire thirteenth month to the year to keep all the holidays in the same season every year. Thus the holidays run on a cycle, each year for three years Jewish holidays will be earlier, until a leap year comes around and pushes them all a month ahead. So while last year Hanukkah overlapped with Christmas, this year it will not.
So if you ever wondered what that Jewish candle holiday was all about, now you know!