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Hanukkah words and phrases

Hanukkah is here! Time to celebrate this festival of light and all the things that go with it; from menorah lighting to stuffing our faces with latkes. Though since we're language people, what about some of the language surrounding this festive season? Here are some words and phrases associated with Hanukkah.



Kislev — כִּסְלֵו

Kislev is the third month in the Jewish calendar. Hanukkah is celebrated on the 25th day of Kislev. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar that is far different from the Gregorian one so many of us are familiar with. This is why Hanukkah appears to move dates every year — it doesn't! This year the 25th day of Kislev lines up with the 22nd of December. 


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Hanukkah — חנוכה

Hanukkah means dedication or rededication, which we know as a festival of lights. This is an eight-day long celebration, or commemoration of when the Maccabees recaptured the Temple from the Greeks. Hanukkah is also spelled as Chanukah.


Hanukkiyah — חנוכיה

The Hanukkiyah is more commonly referred to as the menorah, or Hanukkah lamp. This is a special type of candelabra with nine candleholders, one for each night of Hanukkah and one for the Shamash. The menorah is also referred to as the chanukkiah by some.


Shamash — שמש

This is the candle on the menorah that lights all the other candles, translating from Hebrew as the little helper.


Photo via Wikimedia


Dreidel — סביבון

The Dreidel, or Sevivon as it is known in its romanised form, is a four-sided spinning top that is used to play a gambling game during Hanukkah. Each side of the Dreidel is marked with a letter in Hebrew: נ (nun), ג (gimel), ה (hei), and ש (shin).


Nes gadol hayah sham — נס גדול היה שם

Nes gadol hayah sham is a phrase you will hear and see around a game of Dreidel, since the four letters on each of the Dreidel's sides spell out the phrase. It translates from Hebrew as a great miracle happened there. Though in Israel, the ש (shin) is replaced by פ (peh), to change the phrase to mean a great miracle happened here.


Gelt — חגורה

Gelt is another important word associated with Dreidel. Gelt is Hanukkah money, chocolate pressed into the shape of coins and wrapped in gold foil with a menorah embossed in it. Gelt are given to children to bet with during the games, though of course can be eaten as a quick sweet treat as well!


Al hanisim — עַל הַנִּסִּים

Al hanisim translates as on the miracles. It is used as part of the blessing said after meals throughout Hanukkah. It is inserted into the Amidah prayer which is already said over meals, to make the entire phrase thus: We thank thee also for the miracles, for the redemption, for the mighty deeds and saving acts, wrought by thee, as well as for the wars which thou didst wage for our fathers in days of old, at this season.


Lehadlik et hanerot — להדליק את הנרות

Since the entire festival of Hanukkah involves the lighting of candles, this phrase will come in useful, since it means light the candles. You'll get a lot of practice with this phrase over the eight days!


Tzedakah — צדקה

This phrase isn't just for Hanukkah, though is an important one! Tzedakah translates as justness or righteousness and describes charity, or giving charitable contributions, especially during festive periods.


Photo via Pixabay


Hag orim sameah — חג אורים שמח

Our final phrase is both useful to know and our wish for you. This phrase means happy festival of lights, so can be used as a greeting throughout Hanukkah. You can skip the word for light — orim — easily, if you wish, without altering the meaning of the greeting. You might also see the phrase as chag semeah. Hag, or chag semeah to you!


However you're spending your Hanukkah we hope it's a great one for you. If your interest in Hebrew has been piqued, or you now have the urge to learn any new language, then we can help! Our native speaking tutors will devise a tailormade programme of study to suit your level, time, and needs. Why not drop us a quick enquiry to see how our courses work.