Hanukkah is a Jewish festival of light that usually takes place in November or December. The word “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” in honor of the rededication of the temple in Jerusalem.

Around 200 B.C.E., Antiochus IV Epiphanes lived in Judea (Israel). He told the Jews they could no longer practice their religion and that they must worship the Greek gods that he and his people worshipped. Soon, many of his soldiers killed thousands of Jews in Jerusalem, desecrated the temple, and erected an altar to the Greek god Zeus.

The Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, fought back and recaptured Jerusalem and the holy temple. But to rededicate the temple, they needed to light an eternal flame on the menorah using holy oil. Unfortunately, they only had enough oil for 1 day, and new oil wouldn’t be ready for 8 days. Miraculously, however, after lighting the candle, the oil lasted the full 8 days!

This is why a Hanukkah menorah, or Hanukkiah, typically has 9 candles – one for each day of the celebration, and one helper candle, called the shamash.