Which Countries Celebrate Hanukkah?

Hannukah is a global holiday that is celebrated by people in countries all around the world. But because the holiday is Jewish in origin and tradition, are there any countries that formally celebrate it?

It should come as no surprise that Hanukkah is celebrated significantly in Israel, the country with the highest density of Jewish people, as well as a number of other countries with high Jewish populations.

That said, as a Jewish holiday of low religious importance, Hanukkah is not considered a major holiday in many nations even with high Jewish populations.

This may come as a surprise to those in western nations, where Hanukkah has become widely commercialized.

What is Hanukkah?

Festival of Lights

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a religious celebration with ancient origins. According to Jewish rabbinical texts, the Maccabean Jewish people were able to successfully revolt and regain their temple from invaders.

They then purified the temple and were astonished to find that their lamp oil burned for eight whole days even though it was only supposed to last for one.

Originally celebrated as a feast, Hanukkah has few strict religious requirements and is therefore not considered a highly important day in Judaism.

It is nevertheless viewed as a significant holiday by Jewish people around the world and is often celebrated with eight days of special foods, presents, and lightning a menorah with eight candles (one for each day).

What countries recognize Hanukkah as a holiday?

Technically, Hanukkah is celebrated anywhere there are Jewish people. That said, the significance of the holiday varies from country to country.

Hanukkah is officially recognized as a national holiday in Israel, despite not being a “high holy day” (one of the most significant holidays) of Judaism.

At the same time, most other countries do not recognize Hanukkah as a national holiday on a federal level.

While there may be various reasons for this depending on the location, it may largely be because Hanukkah is still rooted in religious practices (as opposed to Christmas, which does have religious origins but also has major non-religious aspects and is practiced by many non-Christians).

Who celebrates Hanukkah?

Who celebrates Hanukkah

Hanukkah has religious origins and is celebrated by those of all denominations within the Jewish faith.

But while it is not considered a high holy day or an official federal holiday in most nations, Hanukkah has become widely celebrated around the world by many people.

Due to its close proximity to other global holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Eve (and Thanksgiving in the United States), Hanukkah is now viewed as a major holiday of similar magnitude.

Traditionally, only people of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah. However, non-practicing Jewish people (including agnostic and atheist people of Jewish ethnicity) are also known to observe the holiday.

An increasing amount of non-Jewish people (neither in religion nor ethnicity) have also been reported to celebrate Hanukkah.

Is Hanukkah celebrated in Ethiopia?

Ethiopia is known for having a small but significant percentage of Jewish citizens. According to some Ethiopian historical accounts, the population was closer to 50 percent Jewish before Christianity was declared the African nation’s official religion during the 4th Century.

The Jewish population has dwindled in the centuries since but nevertheless remains existent today.

It’s worth noting, however, that Ethiopian Jewish people tend to follow a Biblical, pre-Rabbinic form of the religion.

As a result, they follow Jewish texts from before the catalyst events of Hanukkah took place, and therefore most do not celebrate the holiday.

Ethiopian Jewish

People of Ethiopian Jewish descent are more likely to celebrate Hanukkah if they live in a country where it is widely celebrated, but they may follow only the commercial aspects.

How is Hanukkah celebrated around the world?

As a national holiday in Israel, Hanukkah comes with schools and workplaces being closed and special public events held around the country.

The small country holds an annual Hanukkah Torch Relay, for example, where participants pass a flame from the city of Modi’in (where the Maccabean Jewish people lived) to Jerusalem’s holy Western Wall.

Brightly lit menorahs and other decorations are also displayed throughout the streets.

In other nations, the celebrations tend to be a bit more subdued. Most celebrations take place largely at home, where families celebrate by exchanging gifts, playing games of dreidel, eating special foods, and lighting a new candle each day.

Prayers may be recited during each candle lighting.

Areas that have large Jewish populations, especially those in western nations, tend to lean into more commercialized celebrations.

In 1975, San Francisco became the first city outside of Israel to hold a large public menorah lighting ceremony, and numerous other cities have since followed suit.

Where did Hanukkah dreidel games start?

Dreidel game

Dreidel (spinning top) games have long been associated with Hanukkah. However, the origins of this connection are largely unknown.

According to various legends, however, the dreidel came about as a means of outsmarting ancient authorities who banned the studying of Jewish religious texts.

While dreidels have indeed been used for hundreds of years, it’s unclear how much truth there is to this. Modern historians believe that the dreidel is an adaptation of European spinning tops.

Some maintain the dreidel specifically comes from the teetoum, a gambling top of Irish or German origin.

Does Hanukkah always take place at the same time?

Unlike some holidays (like Thanksgiving), Hanukkah is celebrated around the world at the same time.

Hanukkah always starts on the 25th day of Kislev, which is the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar.

However, this day does not always fall at the same time on the Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar followed around most of the world.

Because of this, the start of Hanukkah varies every year, taking place in either November or December.

That said, the holiday is always observed for eight days and eight nights, with a portion of it usually falling in December.

As a result, Hanukkah is viewed as one of the December global holidays by many countries that celebrate it.

Does Hanukkah have different names around the world?

different names

While some holidays have different names depending on where they are being observed, Hanukkah (meaning “to dedicate” or “dedication”) is generally referred to as Hanukkah or the “Festival of Lights” no matter where it takes place.

That said, there are numerous translations of the holiday name from the Hebrew “חנוכה” (which is read from right to left). In English, some of the more common translations include:

  • Hanukkah
  • Chanukah
  • Chanukkah
  • Hannukah
  • Hanuka
  • Hannukka
  • Channukkah
  • Chanuka

The Hebrew sounds used to pronounce Hanukkah do not directly translate, and so all of these names are considered correct spellings.

Is Hanukkah banned anywhere?

Hanukkah banned

Sadly, anti-Semitic laws have been put into place many different times throughout history. While many countries now enjoy the free practice of religion, it is still difficult to celebrate Hanukkah (much less practice Judaism in general) in some nations.

Explicit bans of Hanukkah are few and far between – if they currently exist at all – but some government practices are very prohibitive.

In China, for example, Judaism is not among the five religions approved by the government, meaning the small but existent Chinese Jewish population must practice in secret.

Discriminatory laws in Yemen have meanwhile forced the vast majority of the country’s Jewish population to flee during the 20th and 21st Centuries, leaving behind an atmosphere that does not condone Jewish holidays.

The emergence of politicized Islam in various other Arab countries also makes it challenging for Jewish holidays to be openly celebrated.