What to do on Chanukah

Chanukah is unique amongst the holidays in that it has only a single mitzvah - publicizing the miracle of Chanukah through the lighting of the menorah.

Table of Contents

The Chanukah Menorah

The Chanukah Menorah is a candelabra with nine branches. It is also called a chanukiah.

The Ninth branch – While there are only eight nights of Chanukah, an extra candle is lit every night to be a “helper,” and is used to light the other candles. This candle is called the shamash. The place for the shamash on the menorah should be differentiated from the other lights. Usually it is higher, lower or out of line with the others.

The Eight Lights

    • Instead of a menorah, one may light a series of tea candles (for example) one next to the other.
    • The lights should be in a straight, even line without any differentiation in height between the eight Chanukah lights, or however many are lit that particular night. The lights may be in a semi-circle as long as all of the lights can be viewed at the same time.
    • There should be enough space between lights so that two flames do not burn together or cause the candle next to it to melt.

Oil or candles — The sages said that it is preferable to use olive oil for the Chanukah lights, since the miracle took place with olive oil. One may use wax or paraffin candles or other types of oils as long as they produce a steady light.


NOTE: Please be sure to review fire safety procedures with your family


  • The purpose of lighting the Chanukah lights, and its essential mitzvah, is to proclaim the miracle (Pirsumei Nisa). It is important, therefore, to kindle the Chanukah lights where others will see them.
  • The Chanukah lights were originally lit at the entrance to one’s home, facing the street. It was placed on the left side of the entrance, across from the mezuzah.
    • It is now a common practice to place the menorah in a window facing the street.
    • If one lives on a high floor or is unable to place the menorah in a place visible from the street, it is permissible to place the Chanukah lights in any room where the people in the house will be able to see it.


  • While there are several opinions about when one should kindle the Chanukah lights, the majority opinion is that it should be done at the time when three stars have appeared in the sky (approximately an 40-50 minutes after sunset).
  • Many people do, however, follow the opinion of the Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, 1720 – 1797), and light at sunset. This custom is commonly followed in Jerusalem.
  • If one is unable to light at the appropriate time, one may light later in the night as long as there is someone else in the household who is awake (thus fulfilling the requirements of publicizing the miracle).
    • If it is very late and no one is awake, one should light without the blessing.
    • If there are people in the street or in the apartments of a facing building who would see the lit candles, it is okay to light.
  • If one does not light at all during the night, they cannot do a “make-up” lighting. In such a case, one should just continue on the next night with everyone else.


  • All adults are equally obligated in the lighting of the Chanukah lights and each one may light their own menorah.
  • Children over the age of 9 should light.
  • The head of the household may, however, elect to kindle one set of Chanukah lights for the entire household.


  • On the first night, one light is placed on the far right of the menorah. Each succeeding night, one light is added to the left of the previous night’s candle(s). The newest light is always lit first.
  • Before lighting, the following blessings are recited:
    • Baruch Atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech ha’olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah.Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us, to kindle the lights of Chanukah.
    • Baruch Atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech ha’olam, she’asah neesim la’avotaynu, bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who wrought miracles for our ancestors in those days at this season.
    • The third blessing is recited on the first night only.Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam, sheh’heh’cheh’yanu v’kee’manu v’hee’gee’anu la’zman ha’zeh.
      Blessed are You L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
  • As the lights are kindled, Ha’neyrot Halalu is recited.Ha’neyrot halalu anachnu madlikin al hanisim v’al ha’niflaot, v’al ha’t’shu’ot v’al hamilchamot, she’aseetah la’avotaynu ba’yamim hahem bazman ha’zeh, al y’dey Kohanecha ha’k’doshim. V’chol shmonat y’mey Chanukah, ha’neyrot halalu kodesh hem. V’eyn lanu r’shut l’hishtamesh bahem, ehla lirotam bilvad, k’dey l’hodot u’leha’lel l’shim’cha ha’gadol al neesecha v’al nif’l’otecha v’al y’shu’otecha.These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations and on the battles which You performed for our ancestors in those days in this season, through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah, these lights are sacred. We are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them, in order to express thanks and praise to Your great name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.
  • After the lights are lit, Ma’oz Tzur is sung. Ma’oz tzur y’shu’ahtee, l’chah nah’eh l’shabeyach; Tee’kone beyt t’feelah’tee, v’sham todah n’zah’beyach; L’ayt tacheen matbeyach, mee’tsahr ham’nabeyach; Ahz egmor b’sheer mizmor, chanukat ha’mizbeyach.
    Rock of Ages let our song, praise Thy saving power. Thou amidst the raging foes, was our sheltering tower. Furious they assailed us, but Thine arm availed us. And thy word, broke their sword, when our own strength failed us.

The Chanukah lights should stay lit for at least half an hour.
For the first half hour that the lights are burning, it is customary to refrain from common household chores.
One may not use the Chanukah lights for anything except proclaiming the miracle. For instance, one may not read using the light of a menorah.

Chanukah Happenings

Additional Prayers

  1. Al Ha’nisim, “On the Miracles,” is inserted into the daily prayers.
    • During the Silent Amidah of the morning, afternoon and evening service, Al Ha’nisim is recited after Modim (the Thanksgiving blessing).
    • During Bentching/Bircat Hamazon (Grace After Meals), it is added in the middle of the second blessing, Nodeh L’cha.
    • If one forgets to add Al Ha’nisim, neither the Silent Amidah nor Bentching should be repeated.
    • Al Ha’nisim recalls the miracles that occurred on Chanukah, particularly the victory of the Jews over the Syrian-Greek army.
  2. Hallel, Psalms of Praise, is recited after the morning Silent Amidah. – Hallel is a collection of Psalms that are recited on the festivals and Rosh Chodesh (the new month).

The Customs of Chanukah

  • Dreidel is a spinning top game played with coins or candies.
  • The Foods of Chanukah
    • Because of the significance of oil in the miracle of Chanukah, it has become customary to partake of foods fried in oil during the holiday. Two traditional treats are latkes and sufganiot (potato pancakes and doughnuts).Click here for recipes
    • Some people eat dairy in honor of Yehudit, a Jewish heroine who saved her city by giving the enemy goat cheese to eat.

Chanukah Gelt (Chanukah Gifts)
Gelt is Yiddish word meaning money. It is customary to give Chanukah gelt to the children.

  • In earlier generations, it was usually shiny pennies or, at most, dimes. Now, probably as a result of inflation, one doesn’t give less than a shiny gold dollar (sometimes filled with chocolate).
  • The custom of Chanukah gelt is often used to reward the child for knowing about the holiday or for learning about Judaism during Chanukah.
  • The custom of Chanukah Gelt is actually found in the Talmud, where it states that even the poorest person must light Chanukah lights. If the person cannot afford oil or candles, than they should actually ask people for money. The Jewish perspective on charity, however, is very sensitive the dignity of the person in need. For this reason, it became customary to distribute money at Chanukah time so that it does not come across as charity, but as Chanukah gelt.
  • The custom of giving gifts is often seen as an extension of Chanukah Gelt.
  • Unfortunately, in the consumer driven American society, Judaism has to compete with the non-Jewish “Holiday Season.” Since children cannot distinguish between their spiritual needs and their material desires, many parents have found it necessary to give Chanukah gifts in competition with Xmas gifts, and thus developed the custom of giving Chanukah presents.

Shabbat Chanukah
Shabbat candles are lit 18 minutes before sunset on Friday night. Since the Chanukah candles are lit during or after sunset, which is already the Sabbath (on which it is prohibited to create a flame), there are specific rules for Shabbat Chanukah.

    1. The Chanukah lights are kindled immediately before the Shabbat candles are lit.
    2. Because the Chanukah lights must burn for at least a half an hour after sunset, extra oil is used or larger candles should be lit.
      • Judaica stores often have special larger, longer candles available.
      • Many people create makeshift menorahs and use Shabbat candles, which burn much longer than the thin Chanukah candles.
    3. After the Chanukah candles are lit, and a moment is taken to enjoy their light, the Shabbat candles are kindled. Click here for Shabbat Candle-lighting directions.

On Saturday night, the Chanukah candles are lit after the Havdalah ceremony, which separates the Sabbath from the weekday, is recited.


On Chanukah, Jewish families around the world gather together in their homes and light the Chanukah candles. Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, celebrates the great miracles that happened during the Maccabee revolt in the time of the Second Temple period.

Learn more

Programs and Classes

Host or attend the exciting Chanukah programs and classes provided by NJOP and find out how you or your community can participate.


Discover, read and download our comprehensive guides and walkthroughs, watch videos and learn about the various aspects of Chanukah.


Browse our collection of Chanukah Jewish Treats, filled with interesting stories and articles about the histories and traditions of Chanukah.