No celebration of Hanukkah is complete without a memorable menorah-lighting ceremony — that and, of course, eating lots and lots of latkes. Predating the Star of David and serving as the centerpiece for the Festival of Lights, the menorah is one of the most recognizable and widespread symbols of the Jewish religion. If you're celebrating the holiday this year for the first time or simply need a refresher, here's everything you need to know to correctly illuminate the menorah come Hanukkah.
The Significance of the Menorah
The menorah (lamp in Hebrew) was a seven-branched candelabrum used by the Maccabees, a small army of Jewish warriors who defeated and gained back the Holy Temple from the Seleucid Hellenistic army. After their win, the Maccabees only had enough oil to light the menorah in the temple for one night, yet, miraculously, this oil lasted for eight. That's why the menorah used during Hanukkah holds nine candles: one for each of those eight nights and the shammash (or "helper" candle) which sits in the middle.
Placing and Lighting the Candles in the Menorah
The lighting of the menorah is Hanukkah's most central ritual, and there are two main rules to follow: 1. The shammash candle should always be lit first and used to light the other eight candles. 2. While the candles are placed one at a time from right to left (the far right spot is for the first night; the one next to it to the left is for the second, and so on), they are lit from left to right, illuminating the newest candle first.
As you use the shammash to light the other candles, it's customary to recite three traditional blessings on the first night and two on the following seven nights.
When to Light the Candles
Since all Jewish holidays start at sunset, you should gather your family and friends to begin the lighting ceremony around that time. Some make an exception on Fridays, the beginning of Shabbat, lighting the menorah before nightfall on this day.
What to Do Once the Candles Have Been Lit
Once the proper candles have been lit and the shammash has been placed back in the center of the menorah, the Hanukkah hymns "Hanerot Halalu" and "Maoz Tzur" are usually sung. Then, it's time to relish in the beautiful lighting with your loved ones. Whether you share stories, bring out the dreidel, or feast on dinner, there's no better way to celebrate this time together than by marveling at the gleaming menorah light and allowing it to illuminate both your heart and home.