11 Festive Facts About Hanukkah

A Hanukkah menorah (traditional candelabra), dreidels (spinning tops), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts)
A Hanukkah menorah (traditional candelabra), dreidels (spinning tops), and sufganiyot (jelly donuts)
tomertu/iStock via Getty Images

Every winter, Jewish people around the world spend eight nights lighting candles, eating latkes, and spinning dreidels. But beyond the menorahs and fried food, what’s Hanukkah really about? Here are 11 festive facts about Hanukkah.

1. Don’t worry about spelling Hannukah wrong.

The Hebrew word Hanukkah means dedication, and the holiday is colloquially called the Festival of Lights. But you’ve probably seen the word spelled a variety of ways, from Hanukkah to Hannuka to Chanukah. Because the word is transliterated from Hebrew, there’s not an exact English equivalent for the sounds made by the Hebrew characters. So technically, you could spell it Khahnoocca and you wouldn't necessarily be wrong, but most people would probably be confused.

2. Hannukah celebrates a military victory and miracle.

During the eight nights of Hanukkah, Jews light a candle to pay tribute to a miracle that occurred back in 165 BCE. The Maccabees, an army of Jewish rebels, conquered the Syrian-Greeks, who had outlawed Jewish practices and defiled the holy Temple in Jerusalem by putting an altar of Zeus in it and sacrificing pigs. The Maccabees then rededicated and reclaimed the Temple, and although they only had enough oil to light a lamp for one day, the oil miraculously lasted for eight days.

3. Hannukah is not the biggest Jewish holiday.

The Torah makes no mention of Hanukkah, and the Jewish religion places much more importance on holidays such as Passover and Rosh Hashanah. But because Hanukkah usually occurs in December, around Christmas time and winter break when people of many religions are celebrating the season, Jews living in the United States in the early 20th century began placing more importance on the holiday. Today, Jews around the world (even in Israel) have followed suit, and Hanukkah is more important than it once was.

4. Hannukah food isn’t necessarily the healthiest.

Hanukkah has its own set of customary foods. To celebrate the holiday, Jews fry foods in oil to acknowledge the miracle of the oil. They may chow down on latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), kugel (noodle or potato casserole), and gelt (chocolate coins).

5. The letters on a Hannukah dreidel form an acronym.

Wooden and metal dreidels near glittering gold coins
tomertu/iStock via Getty Images

At Hanukkah, kids play with dreidels, which are small spinning tops. Tradition says that before the Maccabees revolted, Jews weren’t legally allowed to read the Torah, so they would study the holy text while pretending to gamble with spinning dreidels. Each of the four sides of a dreidel has a Hebrew character: Nun, Gimel, Hay or Shin. The four letters are said to stand for the Hebrew phrase "Nes Gadol Hayah Sham"—meaning "A great miracle happened there"—which refers to the miraculous, long-lasting oil.

6. The dates of Hannukah change each year.

Because the holiday is based on the Hebrew calendar, there’s no set Gregorian date range for Hanukkah. While it always starts on the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, that date can correspond to anywhere from late November to late December. This year, Hanukkah is fairly late, beginning on the evening of December 22 and going to December 30.

7. Sometimes Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving.

In 2013, Hanukkah overlapped with Thanksgiving, giving rise to countless Thanksgivukkah memes and jokes about cranberry-filled sufganiyot and sweet potato latkes. Sadly, the next Thanksgivukkah won’t occur until 2070, when the first night of Hanukkah will coincide with a particularly late Thanksgiving dinner.

8. Some Jews give money rather than gifts on Hannukah.

Hanukkah gold gelt coins
sboice/iStock via Getty Images

Traditionally, Jews celebrated Hanukkah by giving their kids and relatives gelt (money) rather than wrapped gifts. But because holiday gift-giving plays a big role for both Christians and secular people, many Jews now give and receive Hanukkah presents instead of money. To acknowledge tradition, though, most Jews give children gelt in the form of chocolate coins wrapped in gold or silver foil.

9. You’ll need to light 44 candles on Hannukah.

Hanukkah menorahs—which some Jews prefer to call a chanukiah, to differentiate it from the true menorah at the Temple—have nine branches, eight for each night plus a helper candle called a shamash that lights the others. Jews light the candles in the menorah from left to right, lighting a new candle, candles for the previous days, and the helper candle each night. You’ll need to use a whopping 44 candles to celebrate Hanukkah since you light two candles the first night, three the second night, four the third night, and so on.

10. You can buy scented candles for your Hanukkah menorah.

A big part of Hanukkah is lighting candles, but some Jews opt for a less conventional approach. Besides buying candles in different colors and non-toxic varieties, there are also scented candles available for Hanukkah menorahs. If you want to make your home smell like vanilla, raspberry, or even sufganiyot, there’s a scented candle for you.

11. Hanukkah songs aren't really a thing—at least for adults.

Christmas songs start playing on the radio long before Thanksgiving, but although you might know a few Hanukkah songs, music isn’t a huge part of the Jewish holiday. Well-known songs such as "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah" are mainly for children, and songs like Adam Sandler’s "The Chanukah Song" are mostly for laughs.

45 Amazing Facts About All 44 American Presidents

iStock.com/traveler1116
iStock.com/traveler1116

In March 1789, the U.S. Constitution was officially enacted and the office of the President of the United States was established. The following month, General George Washington was sworn in as the first Commander-in-Chief and since then, 44 men have held the job (one in two non-consecutive terms, which is why we have 45 presidencies total). Below is an interesting tidbit about each person who has held the highest office in the land.

1. George Washington

George Washington with his family.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Not only was George Washington known as the father of the country, he was also known as the "Father of the American Foxhound" for creating a unique breed of foxhound he called "Virginia Hounds."

2. John Adams

John Adams
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Adams signed a congressional act creating the United States Marine Band in 1798, which is now the oldest active professional musical organization in the U.S. Known as the President's Own, they played at the first ever New Year's celebration at the president’s house and, later, at Thomas Jefferson's inauguration.

3. Thomas Jefferson

Portrait of Thomas Jefferson.
iStock.com/traveler1116

Thomas Jefferson offered to sell his personal library when the Library of Congress was burned by the British during the War of 1812. He sold them 6487 books from his own collection, the largest in America at the time.

4. James Madison

James Madison
National Archive, Newsmakers

James and Dolley Madison were crazy for ice cream. They had an ice house built on the grounds of their Montpelier estate so that they could enjoy ice cream and cold drinks all summer long, and they were known to serve bowls of oyster ice cream at official government functions.

5. James Monroe

James Monroe
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

James Monroe and his wife, Elizabeth, attended Napoleon's coronation at Notre Dame Cathedral in 1804 while he was serving as the American ambassador in the U.K.

6. John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams
Henry Guttmann, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

John Quincy Adams enjoyed skinny-dipping. He was known to take 5 a.m. plunges in the Potomac River as part of his morning exercise routine.

7. Andrew Jackson

Andrew Jackson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Andrew Jackson despised banks and made it his mission to defund the Second Bank of the United States (he succeeded). So, it seems particularly ironic that his portrait has graced the $20 since 1929.

8. Martin Van Buren

Martin Van Buren
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Born in New York in 1782, Martin Van Buren was the first president to have been born after the American Revolution, technically making him the first American-born president. (The seven before him were all born in the American colonies.)

9. William Henry Harrison

William Henry Harrison
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Harrison kept a goat as his pet, but never bothered to name him. (He called him Billy goat.) He also had a beloved cow he called Sukey.

10. John Tyler

John Tyler
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

John Tyler loved music and had considered becoming a concert violinist before deciding to follow his father's advice and study law. Often, he would play music for guests at the White House and in his later years he devoted himself to perfecting his skill at violin and fiddle. In 2004, when he was sculpted in bronze as part of a presidents' memorial in South Dakota, the artists included his violin in his statue.

11. James K. Polk

James Polk
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When he was 17, James Polk needed surgery to have some kidney stones removed. He had some brandy to numb the pain but was awake for the entire procedure—anesthesia wouldn't be invented for another 30-some years.

12. Zachary Taylor

Zachary Taylor and his horse, Old Whitey.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Zachary Taylor was a war hero whose beloved horse, Old Whitey, was nearly as popular as he was—numerous times while the steed was grazing on the White House lawn, visitors would approach him to pluck a hair from his tail for a souvenir.

13. Millard Fillmore

Millard Fillmore
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

A voracious reader, Millard Fillmore was known to keep a dictionary on him in order to improve his vocabulary.

14. Franklin Pierce

Franklin Pierce
National Archive, Newsmakers

Franklin Pierce had a number of nicknames, including "Handsome Frank," but likely the most embarrassing was "Fainting Frank." As a brigadier general in the Mexican-American war, he sustained a groin and knee injury during a battle in 1847 when he was thrown against the pommel of his horse. He only briefly passed out from the pain, but the nickname stuck around for life.

15. James Buchanan

James Buchanan
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Though James Buchanan was engaged once in his late twenties, she broke it off. He became the only president who was a lifelong bachelor.

16. Abraham Lincoln

portrait of Abraham Lincoln
iStock.com/ilbusca

Before Abraham Lincoln found his "look" with his famous beard, he was known for his fairly unkempt appearance. One reporter referred to his "thatch of wild republican hair" with his "irregular flocks of thick hair carelessly brushed" across his face.

17. Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

In his day, Andrew Johnson was known as the best dressed president. Growing up, his mother sent him to apprentice with a tailor, and he frequently made his own clothes and suits.

18. Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant
Spencer Arnold, Getty Images

In an attempt to unite the North and South, Ulysses S. Grant made Christmas a national holiday in 1870.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes

Rutherford B. Hayes
National Archive, Newsmakers

The first Siamese cat to arrive in America was sent as a gift to Hayes and his wife, Lucy, by the American consul in Bangkok. Siam the cat landed at the White House in 1879 after traveling by ship to Hong Kong then San Francisco, and then by train to Washington, D.C.

20. James A. Garfield

James A Garfield
National Archive, Newsmakers

As a child, James Garfield dreamed of being a sailor. He read a number of nautical novels which fueled his imagination, but a teenage job towing barges was as close to a seafaring life as he saw.

21. Chester A. Arthur

Chester Alan Arthur
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Chester A. Arthur oversaw a massive renovation of the White House and its private chambers. Arthur hired Louis C. Tiffany—Tiffany and Co.'s first design director and the man most known for his work with stained glass—to do all of the redesign. To help cover some of the costs, Arthur had 24 wagon-loads of old furniture, drapes, and other household items (some of which dated back to the Adams administration) sold at auction.

22. Grover Cleveland

Grover Cleveland circa 1885.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

He was born Stephen Grover Cleveland, but dropped Stephen before he entered into politics. He was affectionately called "Uncle Jumbo" by his younger relatives because he was nearly 6 feet tall and weighed about 270 pounds.

23. Benjamin Harrison

Portrait of Benjamin Harrison.
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Benjamin Harrison had a tight-knit family and loved to amuse and dote on his grandchildren. He put up the first recorded White House Christmas tree in 1889, and was known to put on the Santa suit for entertainment.

24. Grover Cleveland

Portrait of Grover Cleveland
iStock

Grover Cleveland was also the first (and only) U.S. President to serve non-consecutive terms, so he makes this list twice. Between terms, he moved back to New York City, worked at a law firm, and his wife gave birth to their famous first daughter, Baby Ruth.

25. William McKinley

Portrait of William McKinley
National Archive, Newsmakers/Getty

William McKinley had a double yellow-headed Amazon parrot named Washington Post who served in an official capacity as a White House greeter. The bird also knew the song "Yankee Doodle Dandy"—the president would whistle the first few notes, and then Washington Post would finish the rest.

26. Theodore Roosevelt

Portrait of Theodore Roosevelt
Hulton Archive, Getty

For his official White House portrait, Theodore Roosevelt chose the famed French portraiture artist Theobald Chartran, who had earlier done a portrait of the First Lady Edith Roosevelt. "It was difficult to get the president to sit still," The New York Times reported Chartran said before the painting was unveiled and displayed in France in 1903. "I never had a more restless or more charming sitter." Roosevelt, however, hated the painting, and after hiding it in a dark hall of the White House for years, he eventually burned it.

27. William Howard Taft

William Howard Taft
Topical Press Agency, Getty Images

In 1910, William Taft became the first president to attend baseball's opening day and throw the ceremonial first pitch, a tradition that has been honored by nearly every president since (sans Carter and Trump, thus far).

28. Woodrow Wilson

portrait of Woodrow Wilson
Tony Essex/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Woodrow Wilson is among many U.S. Presidents known for their love of golf. Wilson enjoyed daily rounds to stay in shape and relax, particularly during World War I, when he even used black golf balls so he could play through the winter.

29. Warren G. Harding

Portrait of Warren G. Harding
Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers

Warren G. Harding loved playing poker and held weekly games at the White House. Rumor has it he even bet, and lost, an entire set of official White House china.

30. Calvin Coolidge

portrait of Calvin Coolidge
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

Though three presidents (Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe) have died on the 4th of July, Calvin Coolidge is the only president to have been born on that date.

31. Herbert Hoover

portrait of Herbert Hoover
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images

After he left office, Herbert Hoover wrote a number of books, including The Ordeal of Woodrow Wilson, the first biography of a president written by another president.

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt

Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Portrait of Franklin D Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, taken at the time of their engagement, circa 1903.
Keystone Features/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Franklin married Eleanor Roosevelt in 1905, they chose the date March 17 because President Theodore Roosevelt would be in New York City for the St. Patrick's Day parade, and he'd agreed to walk Eleanor, his niece, down the aisle. FDR and TR were fifth cousins.

33. Harry S. Truman

Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Harry Truman takes the oath of office in 1945; standing beside him are his wife, Bess, and daughter, Margaret.
Central Press/Getty Images

Though Harry Truman met his wife, Bess, in the fifth grade and they were high school sweethearts, they didn't marry until they were in their mid-thirties.

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Dwight D. Eisenhower in front of a WWII map.
Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Even though Ike's military career spanned both world wars and made him one of only nine men who have ever attained the rank of five-star general, he never once saw active combat.

35. John F. Kennedy

JFK during a campaign.
Keystone/Getty Images

JFK lived off of his family's considerable trusts, so he donated all of his congressional and presidential salaries to charities like the United Negro College Fund and Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.

36. Lyndon B. Johnson

Lyndon B. Johnson behind a podium.
Keystone/Getty Images

Lyndon Johnson had two beagles named Him and Her. The dogs became national celebrities after being frequently photographed with the president; they were heavily featured in a 1964 Life magazine profile that stated, "Not many dogs have been privileged to shoo birds off the White House lawn, get underfoot at a Cabinet meeting, or mingle with dignitaries at a state ball."

37. Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon playing the piano.
National Archive/Newsmakers

Nixon's mother encouraged him to play piano at an early age and he went on to learn violin, clarinet, saxophone, and accordion. In 1961, he even performed a song he wrote on The Jack Paar Program.

38. Gerald Ford

Gerald Ford in 1934.
Michigan University/Getty Images

Ford attended the University of Michigan, where he was a star football player. The team won national titles in both 1932 and '33 (Ford's sophomore and junior years). After graduation, he turned down offers to play with both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers; instead, he took a coaching job at Yale University because he also wanted to attend their law school.

39. Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jimmy Carter was known for his frugality, and he went so far as to sell the presidential yacht while he was in office. The USS Sequoia had been in use since the Hoover administration, but by 1977, it cost $800,000 a year in upkeep and staffing. Carter sold it for $236,000.

40. Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan in 1965.
Warner Bros./Courtesy of Getty Images

Ronald Reagan's last acting role was also his first go as a villain. The film, 1964's The Killers, was based on an Ernest Hemingway story and was intended to be one of the first made-for-television movies. The network, however deemed it too violent for TV, so it was released in theaters instead.

41. George H.W. Bush

George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara Bush in November 1978.
Dirck Halstead/Liaison

George and his wife, Barbara, met as teenagers in 1941 and were married just over two years later. They died within months of each other in 2018, and their 73-year marriage was the longest of any first couple. (The second-longest presidential marriage was that of John and Abigail Adams at 54 years. Adams was the only other president whose son also held the job.)

42. Bill Clinton

Bill Clinton does a crossword puzzle
Steam Pipe Trunk Distribution, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Bill Clinton enjoys crossword puzzles so much he once wrote the clues for a New York Times puzzle in 2017.

43. George W. Bush

George W. Bush goes jogging with an injured army veteran.
President George W. Bush jogs with Army Staff Sergeant Christian Bagge, who lost both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq, at the White House in 2006.
Matthew Cavanaugh-Pool, Getty Images

In 1993—two years before he became the governor of Texas—George W. Bush ran the Houston marathon, finishing with a time of 3:44:52. He is the only president to have ever run a marathon.

44. Barack Obama

Obama playing basketball with his staff.
President Barack Obama plays basketball with cabinet secretaries and members of Congress on the White House court in 2009.
Pete Souza, The White House via Getty Images

Barack Obama's love of basketball was well-documented during his presidency, but according to one of his high school teammates, he earned the nickname "Barry O'Bomber" because of all the tough shots he was known to take (and miss).

45. Donald Trump

Donald Trump with a book.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images

Of the many commercial products that Donald Trump has put his name on, the Tour de Trump—a bike race meant to be the American answer to the Tour de France—might be the oddest. It was called that for its first two years (1989-'90) before being renamed the Tour de DuPont for its final six years as an event.

A ‘Valentine Phantom’ Has Been Covering Portland, Maine, in Paper Hearts for More Than 40 Years

Corey Templeton, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Corey Templeton, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Portland, Maine, has a secret admirer. Each Valentine's Day, flyers and banners with pink and red hearts appear in random spots around the city. According to Bangor Daily News, no one has claimed responsibility for the anonymous valentines in 41 years.

The first evidence of the so-called "Valentine Phantom" (who is sometimes referred to as the "Valentine Bandit") surfaced in Portland in 1976. Paper hearts were found plastering the streets on the holiday, with no clues indicating where they came from. The mystery only grew as the hearts returned every year on February 14. There's no pattern dictating where the hearts are placed; they've been found on everything from snowbanks to landmarks. Massive banners have also been hung up in prominent places. In the past decade, giant hearts have emblazoned the Portland Public Library and the ruins of Fort Gorges in Casco Bay.

In 2017, Bangor Daily News landed an exclusive interview with the Valentine Phantom. The mysterious force is actually a crew of Valentine's Day-lovers with connections to various sites and buildings around the city. The perpetrators declined to share their identities, telling the outlet, “Most people are dying to be in the paper. This is the opposite. This is not ego-driven.”

The Phantom has done more than spread good feelings to fellow Portlanders on Valentine's Day; they've sparked a nationwide trend. Similar anonymous heart flyers have appeared in Montpelier, Vermont, and Boulder, Colorado.

[h/t Bangor Daily News]

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