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It Matters How You Spell Hannukah & Other Myths

IMG_2353Last night was the first night of Chanukah, tonight is the second. Here are some myths about the holiday that could do with a little bit of clearing up. 

It matters how you spell Hannukah (Chanukah).

Nope. It really does’t matter how you spell it in English. Not even a little. Go ahead and spell it the way you prefer. It’s more important how you pronounce it. The beginning H or Ch of Hannukah are pronounced with a guttural “kh” sound like the ch in the Scottish loch. The English spelling is merely a transliteration of the original Hebrew word.

Hannukah is the Jewish Christmas.

Nope, again. The word Chanukah comes from the word meaning “to dedicate.” The holiday commemorates the dedication of the second Temple in Jerusalem (the site where the Western Wall stands today). The Maccabees, a group of Jews still firm in their spiritual convictions, cleared the Temple of idols placed there by Greco-Syrian marauders and lit the large candelabra, called a menorah, which was a cobbled-together replacement of the original gold one, stolen by the looters. There was only a small flask of pure olive oil but somehow it lasted 8 nights. This was the miracle of Chanukah.

Chanukah is about the gifts.

Not even a little. The custom of giving gifts arose because of Chanukah’s proximity to Christmas. The actual tradition is to give children coins, not presents, as a reward for study.  (Chanukah is also related to the Hebrew word for “education”.) Chanukah is a spiritual and joyous holiday, with or without gifts.

Latkes (potato pancakes) are all about the potatoes.

There were no potatoes in Jerusalem in the year 139 BCE when the historical events of Chanukah took place. Potatoes are indigenous to Central and South America and didn’t arrive in the Middle East, or Europe, until the European explorers brought them back. Potato pancakes, donuts, and other fried foods are served to remind us of the miracle of the oil. We also eat dairy foods on Chanukah.

Hannukah is a man’s holiday, after all the Macabees were men.

The reason we eat dairy foods is to remind us of Judith (Yehudit), a great heroine. Holofernes, a general, aimed to destroy the Jewish people. Judith contrived to get invited to his tent, plied him with salty cheese. Due to his great thirst, he drank copious amounts of wine. Judith then slew him, saving her people.

Another woman associated with Chanukah is Hannah (Chana), another Jewish heroine (not the Hannah earlier in the Bible) who, together with her seven sons, refused to worship idols and was sadly slaughtered by the Greco-Syrian King, Antiochus.

Hannukah is about a war victory.

Kindasorta. It’s actually not about a material victory, territory, or even defeating an evil empire. It’s much more about spiritual victory, and being able to live with the full spiritual freedom to fulfill spiritual practices and bond with the Creator as the people had done before the Greco-Syrian invasion.

For a post about recovery from mental illness, addiction, and HCHanukah (however you spell it) plus a bonus potato-pancake recipe, read Happy Hanukkah here at

And, Happy Hannukah!




It Matters How You Spell Hannukah & Other Myths

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2015). It Matters How You Spell Hannukah & Other Myths. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Dec 2015
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