Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Samantha. Samantha Wonders, “Why does Hannukkah switch dates every year?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Samantha!
What do you look forward to when the winter holidays approach? If you're like most kids, you relish the thought of a couple of weeks of vacation from school.
You might also look forward to receiving some cool presents. If you celebrate Christmas, then you know the date you'll get to open your Christmas gifts: December 25.
If you're Jewish, though, you might need to double-check the calendar to figure out exactly when Hanukkah begins this year. Why? Does Hanukkah change dates every year? Well, the answer is yes…and no!
Hanukkah is sometimes spelled Hanuka, Chanukah, or one of several other variations. This is because it's a Hebrew word (meaning "dedication"), and the symbols of the Hebrew language represent sounds rather than specific letters. Thus, they can be transliterated a number of different ways into English and mean the same thing (since they all sound the same).
Hanukkah, also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, celebrates the rededication in 165 B.C. of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. The annual celebration lasts for eight days.
Hanukkah usually begins sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. The exact date changes from year to year…sort of. In reality, Hanukkah always begins on the 25th day of Kislev, which is the ninth month on the Jewish calendar.
The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar, which means it's based upon the cycles of the Moon. The modern secular calendar most people around the world use (known as the Gregorian calendar), is a solar calendar, which means it's based upon Earth's revolution around the Sun.
There are about twelve and a half lunar months in a solar calendar year. To make sure that lunar months always occur in the same seasons, the Jewish calendar incorporates a leap month every few years.
Since the Jewish and Gregorian calendars are based upon different cycles, set dates on one calendar correlate to different dates on the other calendar each year. Although Hanukkah always begins on the 25th day of Kislev, that date can fall anywhere between late November and late December on the Gregorian calendar.
So that's why Hanukkah always changes dates every year on the Gregorian calendar…while always being on the same date every year on the Jewish calendar!