Hanukkah or Chanukah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. Also known as the Festival of Lights and Feast of Dedication. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which usually falls in late November to January on the secular calendar. In Hebrew, the word "hanukkah" means "dedication."
Chanukah is probably one of the best known Jewish holidays, not because of any great religious significance, but because of its proximity to Christmas. Many non-Jews (and even many assimilated Jews!) think of this holiday as the Jewish Christmas, while adopting many Christmas customs such as elaborate gift-giving and decoration. It is bitterly ironic that this holiday, which has roots in a revolution against assimilation and the suppression of Jewish religion, has become the most assimilated, secular holiday on our calendar.
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil like latkes or potato pancakes and sufganiot, similar to doughnuts. Another popular custom is playing with the dreidel which is a spinning top on which the Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham ( "a great miracle happened there") are inscribed. Gift giving for Chanukah typically include gelt or gifts of money to children.
The festival is observed by the kindling of the lights of a unique candelabrum called the Menorah or Chanukiah is lit each night; one additional light on each night of the holiday. The candle lighting progresses to eight lit candles on the final night. The typical Menorah consists of eight branches with an additional raised branch. The extra light is called a shamash (Hebrew: שמש, "attendant") used to light the other candles and is given a distinct location, usually above or below the rest.
Candles can be lit any time after dark but before midnight. The candles are normally allowed to burn out on their own after a minimum of 1/2 hour. If necessary candles can be blown out at any time after a minimum of a 1/2 hour. On Shabbat, Chanukah candles are normally lit before the Shabbat candles, but may be lit any time before candlelighting time (18 minutes before sunset). Candles cannot be blown out on Shabbat (it's a violation of the sabbath rule against igniting or extinguishing a flame). Because the Chanukah candles must remain burning until a minimum of 1/2 hour after dark (about 90 minutes total burning time on Shabbat), some Chanukah candles won't get the job done. On one of the earlier nights, you might want to make sure your candles last long enough. If they don't, you might want to use something else for Chanukah on Shabbat, such as tea lights or even Shabbat candles.
Candlelighting Procedure: Each night another candle is added from right to left (similar to the way that the Hebrew language is read). Candles are also lit in this sequence, from left to right to pay honour to the newer thing first. On the eighth night, all eight candles,the 8 Chanukah candles and the shammus, are lit.