What Do Candles Symbolize During Hanukkah?

Hanukkah, meaning "dedication" in Hebrew, is a Jewish festival that takes place each year during the Hebrew month of Kislev on day 25. Amongst other things, candle lighting is a huge part of the holiday. These candles represent the time when the ancient Greeks banned all Jewish rituals in an effort to get rid of Judaism entirely. A group of fighters called the Maccabees managed to reclaim the sacred Temple from Hellenic troops. Though they reclaimed the Temple, they only had a small amount of oil to light a lantern with. However, once it was lit, the lantern burned for eight whole days, hence the eight-day duration of Hanukkah.

Candles being lit also pertain to the season Hanukkah falls in. Per the Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah usually occurs during late November or December. By lighting the candles, people are sweeping out the cold weather blues and welcoming in the warmth and light, both literally and metaphorically. Though it is referred to as Hanukkah most of the time, the holiday can also be spelled as "Chanukah." This is because Hanukkah is a translation of the Hebrew word rather than the original name. Hanukkah is additionally sometimes referred to as the "Festival of Lights" due to the heavy connotation of light it carries. 

Lighting candles represents more than 1 thing during Hanukkah

Although it is often called a menorah, the majority of people during Hanukkah light what is called a hanukkiah, which has nine candle holders instead of eight. This extra candle, called the shamash, lights the other candles. It will be positioned a little above or below the other candles so it's clear which one it is. Some people choose to light one candle of the hanukkiah each night until all are lit on the eighth day. Aside from this, lighting the candles on the hanukkiah/menorah tends to follow a specific structure. 

Via History, each candle should be put on the hanukkiah or menorah from right to left, as this is how Hebrew is read. However, the candles should be lit in the opposite direction, left to right. Specific blessings are said while holding the lit shamash prior to lighting any of the other eight candles. In total, 44 candles are needed. This is because a fresh candle plus the shamash is added each day to the hanukkiah and left until it has completely burned through. Most candle boxes sold specifically for Hanukkah will include this particular number.

The holiday includes traditions that have carried over from the ancient world

As with most traditions, lighting candles during Hanukkah can represent different things. Per the Chabad-Lubavitch Media Center, lighting an extra candle each day can symbolize striving to be better and improving day by day. It can also represent pride in being Jewish, as you are lighting a candle for everyone to see and therefore proclaiming your pride in your religion. Moreover, lighting the hannukiah can represent a sense of justice. Just as the Maccabees bravely fought and won against all odds with only a little of oil spare to light the candle, you too can achieve difficult tasks with the help of your faith.

Alongside lighting the hanukkiah, traditions revolving around Hannukah including having friends and family over or visiting loved ones to enjoy sharing food and drink. There are traditional songs that are sung, and special fried foods like latkes are made to symbolize the oil the Maccabees used to light the lantern. Though not all, some families also exchange presents during Hanukkah as it falls close to Christmas. It is common to give gold coins or more commonly gold-wrapped chocolate candies called gelts. It is also popular to play dreidel, a spinning top game.