Hanukkah Vocabulary: A Guide to the Festival of Lights

24 November 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Japanese House


We’ve all heard of Hanukkah one way or another, like in the episode of Friends called “The One With the Holiday Armadillo.” In this episode, Ross dresses up as “the Holiday Armadillo” so he can teach his son about Hanukkah and his Jewish roots. But then Ross gets interrupted by Santa Claus and Superman. Despite all that fuss, Ross telling his son about the story of Hanukkah is a sweet gesture that illustrates how we pick up cultural and traditional practices, except maybe that in this case the Holiday Armadillo isn’t really a thing. Here’s a quick snippet of the episode:

Hanukkah or Chanukah is the eight-letter name for the Jewish celebration that lasts for eight days. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights and is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, eating of traditional foods, exchanging of gifts, and playing games.

*You can read more about Hanukkah and other important festivals around the world in Spanish, French, German, Korean and more with Beelinguapp.*

The celebration commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev and falls around November or December. Listen to this quick song about the important Jewish Festival of Lights.

With its roots steeped in history, Hanukkah is a vibrant celebration that illuminates the culture and spirit of the Jewish people. So if you’re curious about this holiday, let’s take a look at some key vocabulary words to help you understand. L’chaim!

  • Gelt: money given as presents during Hanukkah
  • Hag orim sameah: a greeting meaning “Happy Festival of Lights”
  • Hanukkiyah: menorah or the Hanukkah lamp; candelabra with nine candle holders
  • Kislev: third month in the Jewish calendar
  • Latkes: potato pancake prepared on Hanukkah
  • Lehadlik et hanerot: a phrase said meaning “light the candles”
  • Maccabees (Machabees): group of Jewish warriors who took control of Judea
  • Menorah: a candelabra used in Jewish worship
  • Nes Gadol Hayah Sham: a phrase you hear when the Dreidel is played; the phrase translates to “a great miracle happened there”
  • Sevivon: dreidel
  • Shamash (shammash): candle on the menorah that is used to light the other candles
  • Sufganiyot: a round jelly donut eaten during Hanukkah
  • Hallel: a portion of Psalms; a Jewish prayer
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