After the Maccabees victory, one of the first priorities was to check the Temple for damage. Because of the anti-Jewish laws and sentiment, the Temple had been desecrated and all the vials of olive oil used to light the "menorah" or candlelabra had been smashed...except for one. The single vial of oil was enough to last one day. In order to give hope to the war-torn people, the menorah was lit--even if only for one day. The miracle came in when on the second, third, fourth, and all the way through the eighth day, the menorah, using one small vial of oil, remained lit. That's why today, Chanukah is celebrated for eight days.
The word "Chanukah" means dedication or rededication because the lighting of the menorah was used to rededicate the Temple after it had been desecrated. In Hebrew, the word "Chanukiah" also means menorah for this reason. Hebrew is an interesting language read from right to left, unlike English. It has it's own alphabet known as the "alef-bet," named after the first two letters, "alef" and "bet"; several letters in that alphabet or "alef-bet" have a gutteral "ch" sound--like the first letter in the Hebrew word for "Chanukah"--the letter "chet." So why is Chanukah often spelled "Hanukkah"?
The words "Hanukkah" and "Chanukah" are the same words--"Hanukkah" has just been anglicized--meaning, assimilated for the English language. In English, there are no "ch" sounds so it became easier for people to say "Hanukkah" as opposed to the more gutteral "Chanukah." Mystery solved! No matter which way you pronounce it, you've said it correctly.
If you know someone who celebrates Chanukah, you can really impress them by saying "Chanukah Somaach" (pronounced so-may-ach)--which means "Happy Chanukah" in Hebrew. Pretty cool, huh? You can speak Hebrew now! Or at least, a few words in Hebrew...which is more than most may claim.
More December holiday fun facts to come. I'll write a piece for Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Years--so keep your eyes peeled! December is a busy month but if you'd like to learn a little something about WHY that is, check back to see what's new on the blog.
Until next time, Chanukah Somaach!