How Do You Spell Chanukah?

hanukkah, chanukah

Hanukkah begins this week. So does Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukkah, and Channukah.

Confused? We don’t blame you. Why is this Jewish holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, spelled in so many ways?

The answer comes down to transliteration. Unlike translation, transliteration is when you “change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language.” In Hebrew, the language from which the Jewish festival originates, the word for Hanukkah is not easily transliterated into English. This accounts for why there are so many spelling variants. But Hanukkah and Chanukah are the two versions that are most widely used and accepted.

Hanukkah lasts for eight days. It commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Scholars disagree about how to interpret the Hebrew word for Hanukkah. But one common interpretation is that it means “dedication.”

On each night of the holiday, a different branch of  a candelabrum called a menorah is illuminated. The festival is also celebrated by indulging in latkes, or fried potato pancakes. Children play a game involving a type of wooden or plastic top called a dreidel.

A word common to Judaism, Christianity and Islam is “amen.” What does this simple and common word actually mean? Find out here.

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Getty Images 06-08-2011 Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks runs up court during game…

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  1. Semalea -  December 2, 2013 - 2:34 pm

    I was born and brought up in Manchester,England 78 years ago and in all the years that I lived there, I never once saw Chanukah written in any other way than this. All the Chanukah cards and articles in the Jewish Gazette had the word written as I have done and does to this dayand it is only now am I seeing other spellings. In my opinion it is the American influence that has brought about the differences.
    As for the candlestick that is used for Chanukah the correct name for it is Menorah. It has holders for Eight Candles plus one more which is either at the front of the Menorah or at the end of the row but higher (as you can see in the illustration) and that is for the Shamus or Keeper. It is used to light the other eight. I would like to correct Michael who wrote that the oil lasted seven days, in fact the oil lasted Eight Days and that is why there are places for Eight Candles.
    The lamp that burns before the Ark never goes out, as a sign that G-d is with us. When the Philistines razed the Temple, the lamp continued to burn even when there was no oil. A messenger was sent to obtain more oil and it took eight days for him to return. Hope this helps. . Semalea

  2. Bernice -  December 2, 2013 - 1:38 pm

    I prefer the word Chrismaramahanukwanzikah.

  3. Kim -  December 2, 2013 - 9:16 am

    I take issue with the following sentence: “Unlike translation, transliteration is when you ‘change (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language.’ ” This sentence is grammatically incorrect. A website dedicated to the English language should not include a sentence that uses an adverbial clause (“when you change…”) with a linking verb (“is”). The linking verb “is” should be followed by a noun that renames the subject or by an adjective that describes it. This sentence should be written as follows: “transliteration is ‘chang[ing] (letters, words, etc.) into corresponding characters of another alphabet or language.’ ”

  4. Michael -  December 1, 2013 - 7:55 am

    The ‘candelabrum’ is actually called a Channukiah. The Menorah was a seven branched candelabrum, lit in the times of the Mishkan and the Beis Hamikdosh (temple). The Channukiah has 8 branches as the oil lasted 7 days. And it is also traditional to eat doughnuts, and cheese, from the story of Yehudis.

  5. Hana -  December 1, 2013 - 3:25 am

    Sorry ‘Kimba’ its not “chanucha”, in Hebrew its written חנוכה. Though there is no English equivalent to the first letter of the word, there is a English equivalent to the Hebrew letter kaf, Kimba mistook it for the letter haf (or chaf) which is a common mistake for beginners in the Hebrew language. Basically because there is no English equivalent you can spell the word in many different ways, including: Chanukah, Hannukah, Hannukkah, and Channukah but “chanucha” is not one of them, take it from an Israeli. By the way Kimba the Hebrew calender is not purely lunar, that would be the Muslim calender, the Hebrew calender includes a solar leap year to move the year back into the correct seasons.

  6. Scott -  November 28, 2013 - 8:22 am

    The correct spelling is Chanukah. It should begin with CH and not H because in Hebrew it is spelled with the letter Chet (which makes a hard, guteral sound), not the letter Hay which is just like the English H.

  7. Alan -  November 27, 2013 - 9:46 pm

    That is about the silliest and most poorly written thing I have read. The transliteration of the name of the holiday is Chanukah. The “Ch” is meant to represent the guteral ch (, as in Yuch”). Chanukah in Hebrew means they fought on the 25th. (Chanoo means they fought. Kah means the 25th.) The custom is to eat fried foods. Potato pancakes or the Yiddish, latkes, is the traditional food of the holiday amongst those of European descent. Soofganeeyot, a Hebrew word for fried jelly donuts, which is traditional in Israel.

  8. Joy -  November 27, 2013 - 7:36 pm

    Very intersting

  9. Kimba -  November 27, 2013 - 5:35 pm

    “Chanuchah” is the way I would transliterate it, having taken many Hebrew classes and being Messianic myself. And @ Fred – It depends on what calendar you go by to decide when it starts. I go by the moon. And, finally, Chanuchah is the festival of lights as well, so I suppose you could say it means “Lights.”

  10. Melissa -  November 27, 2013 - 12:50 pm

    The article didn’t state it has “just begun” it states it begins this week.

  11. Moishe -  November 27, 2013 - 11:37 am


  12. Gary C. -  November 27, 2013 - 7:57 am

    Another point. The custom is to eat foods cooked in oil, so Ashkenazim (Jews from eastern Europe) eat latkes, but Sefaradim (Jews from Iberia) eat sufganiot, jelly donuts. However, today we both share each other’s customs.

  13. Fred -  November 26, 2013 - 9:37 am

    Interesting post but a point of information.

    Chanukkah “has NOT just begun.” It begins on November 27th at sundown.

  14. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 26, 2013 - 5:27 am

    And people are trying to combine this with Thanksgiving? Talk about pluralistic. The two holidays are nothing alike.

    Thanks for the information, Dictionary.com. But you should have picked a different title. As soon as we see the title, we know how to spell Chanukah.

    I’ve usually heard it called “Hanukkah.” Nice info, though.

  15. Wit -  July 20, 2013 - 1:43 am

    Adoration is my word.

  16. Bromo Tour -  June 18, 2013 - 7:19 am

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