When is Hanukkah?
This year (5777 / 2016), the festival of Hanukkah begins Saturday, December 24th (in the evening). The festival of Hanukkah lasts for eight days. On each night, a light is kindled to remember the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days.
The Miracle of the Oil
According to the popular legend, when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple, they went to re-light the Menorah lamp that was supposed to burn continually in the presence of God. However, there was only enough sanctified oil to burn the Menorah for 1 day. It would take 8 days before more oil could be supplied. Miraculously, the oil in the Menorah did not burn out, but burned for the full eight days. When more oil was finally available, the oil burned out. We burn the Hanukkiah Menorah through the eight days of Hanukkah as a remembrance of this miracle.
What Will I Need?
To keep Hanukkah in your house, you will need an eight-branched Hanukkah menorah. It is a lamp with eight places for candles or lamps. One additional light is lit on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Such a menorah is called a Hanukkiah. Most Hanukkiah allow room for 9 candles or lamps. The 9th candle is set apart from the other eight branches. It is called the Shamash (servant) candle. It is used to light the other candles.
The Hanukkah Blessings
On the first night of Hanukkah, all three of the following blessings should be recited before lighting the Hanukkiah. On all subsequent nights, only the first two of the blessings need be recited.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, she’asah nisim l’avoteinu, b’yamim haheim bazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers in those days at this time.
On the first night, you'll also say the Shehecheyanu blessing:
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, shehekheyanu, v’kiyamanu vehegianu lazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this season.
Lighting the Hanukkiah:
The Hanukkiah is usually placed in a window facing the street so that it can radiate its light out to the world.
On the first night, light the Shamash. Use the Shamash to light to the flame on the far right hand side of the Hanukkiah. On each subsequent night, a new light is lit to the left of the previous night's lights. As you light the Hanukkiah, read the following meditation.
Meditation for the Lighting of the Hanukkiah:
"We are lighting these lights because of the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and the battles which you performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through your holy priests. During all the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are holy. We are not using them for ordinary light. Instead they are for looking at in order to give thanks and praise to Your Great Name for your miracles, your wonders and your salvations."
Watching the Hanukkiah
As the Hanukkiah burns, one should not leave the room. Rather stay with the Hanukkiah and use the time to tell stories, sing hymns or traditional songs and celebrate the festival. Use the time to retell the story of Hanukkah. Hanukkah means dedication. It is a good time to meditate on how we might re-dedicate our lives to the service and worship of our King. It is a good time to meditate on the Word. Scripture passages relating to Messiah, the Light of the World are very appropriate. Only do not use the light of Hanukkiah to read by.
There is no "one right way" to celebrate Hanukkah. Hanukkah is a family oriented festival. It is a time for eating potato-pancakes, playing dreidel, singing songs and enjoying each other's company. Some families exchange gifts on Hanukkah as a sort of kosher-Christmas. The gifts are not necessary, but may be a nice fit for your family. The important thing is to use the occasion to remember the miracles of salvation and deliverance.