Hanukkah (aka Chanukkah) is the Jewish festival of lights and one of the most joyous celebrations of the Judiac calendar, including present-giving, game playing and the consumption of diet-busting delicacies.

Hanukkah begins at sunset on November 27, 2013, and ends in the evening of December 5.

'They Tried to Destroy Us, We Won Thanks to God, Let's Eat!'

This is the narrative for several Jewish festivals. In the case of Hanukkah it lasts eight days and commemorates the victory of the Israelites led by the Maccabean warriors (the Jewish SAS of its day) over the imperial power of Syria in 167 BCE.

When the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted and services stopped, Judaism was outlawed. In 167 BCE King Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Temple. He banned brit milah (circumcision) and ordered pigs to be sacrificed at the altar of the Temple.

Led by the fearsomely titled Yehuda HaMakabi ("Judah the Hammer") the Jewish rebellion that followed waged a succesful guerilla war, eventually liberating the desecrated Temple.

According to the Talmud, unadulterated and undefiled pure olive oil with the seal of the high priest was needed for the menorah in the Temple, which was required to burn throughout the night every night. The story goes that one flask was found with only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply. An eight-day festival was declared by the Jewish sages to commemorate this miracle.

Hanukkah 2013: The Jewish Festival of Lights Explained
Hanukkah: Four generation of Jews from central Asia light the candles

Lights of Freedom

Each night, throughout the 8 day holiday, a candle or oil-based light, is lit.

Jewish homes have a special nne-branched candle stick referred to as either a chanukkiah (the modern Israeli term), or a menorah (the traditional classical name), or oil lamp holder for Hanukkah, which holds eight lights plus the additional shamash (helper) light. The ceremony is accompanied by prayers and traditional songs.

The reason for the Hanukkah lights is not for the "lighting of the house within", but rather for the "illumination of the house without," so that passers-by should see it and be reminded of the holiday's miracle (i.e. the triumph of the few over the many and of the pure over the impure).

Since the 1970s the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement has initiated public menorah lightnings in open public places in many countries.

For example in London's Trafagar Square there will be a lighting ceremony and free entertainment shortly after sunset each day. See website: www.visitlondon.com

Hannukah: Jews in Hungary celebrating
Hannukah: Jews in Hungary celebrating

Fried Food and Top Fun

Hanukkah foods are deep-fried in oil to symbolise the oil from the Temple menorah. These include latkes, or potato pancakes, and jelly doughnuts. Many also make the Sephardic delicacy bimuelos (Fritters) and applesauce as a topping. Cheese is another traditional dish eaen.

The dreidel is a four-sided spinning top that children play with on Hanukkah. Each side is imprinted with a Hebrew letter. These letters are an acronym for the Hebrew words Nes Gadol Haya Sham ("A great miracle happened there"), referring to the miracle of the oil.

After lighting the Hanukkah menorah, it's time for the dreidel game: Each player starts out with 10 or 15 coins (real or of chocolate), nuts, raisins, candies or other markers, and places one marker in the "pot." The first player spins the dreidel, and depending on which side the dreidel falls on, either wins a marker from the pot or gives up part of his stash.

Hanukkah gelt (Yiddish for "money") is part of the gift giving to children to add to the holiday excitement. The amount is traditionally small coins (or chocolate coins) or small gifts given each night..

Top Hanukkah Lightings

Everyone from rap superstar Drake to actress Mila Kunis and Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli will be celebrating the festival. But the ultimate Hanukkah invite is the annual menorah lighting at the White House with President Barack Obama, wife Michelle, and all the honchos from the US political elite and American Jewish community.

Hanukkah coincides with US celebration of Thanksgiving
Hanukkah coincides with US celebration of Thanksgiving

'Thanksgivukkah 2013'

Hannukah 2013, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, is the earliest it's been in over three decades

For the first time since 1888, Thanksgiving and Hanukkah will converge, marking the first joint celebration of the two holidays aptly named Thanksgivukkah.

The "once-in-a-lifetime" holiday is being marked by Jews across America by decorating their homes with turkey menorahs known as menurkies and dreidels decorated with birds known as turkels to commemorate the special event, the Associated Press reports.

Hanukkah crowds gather in London's Trafalgar Square
Hanukkah crowds gather in London's Trafalgar Square