The Chanukah Menorah
The menorah is the ultimate symbol of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. It is a special eight-branched candelabra with a ninth branch for a so-called “helper” candle, called the Shamash. Each of the eight candles represent one of the eight nights of Chanukah, which in turn represent the miracle of Chanukah.
In the second century BCE, a Jewish band of rebels in Judea known as the Maccabees rescued the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from the Greek pagans who had ransacked it. The group wanted to rededicate the Temple by lighting the eternal lamp. The story of Chanukah tells that they found only enough oil to last for one night; but a miracle happened and that oil lasted for eight nights.
On the first night of Chanukah, the candle on the far right of the Menorah — or Chanukiah (Hanukiyah), as it is called in Hebrew — is lit. Each night, an additional candle is lit, beginning from left to right, until all eight candles shine brightly on the final night of Chanukah. (See: Lighting the Chanukah Menorah)
Special blessings are chanted before the lighting of the candles and family sing traditional songs together afterward. Typically, each member of the family will have his or her own menorah, which is displayed in a window so that the lights may be seen by passers-by. This tradition is intended to “illuminate” the miracle of Chanukah.
The menorah is lit at nightfall and the lights should remain illuminated for at least thirty minutes past dark. Historically, olive oil was used to light the menorah, but today most people use brightly colored candles. Many cities in the United States, Israel and elsewhere around the world sponsor the public lighting of large-scale menorahs in town squares and other prominent locations.