Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.


  • Updated
  • 0

Well, we're certainly into our seasons, aren't we? Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hannukah - or is it Chanukah, or maybe ...?

I have been into the annual Jewish Festival of the Lights for more than six decades now and still don't know how to spell it. Neither does anyone else.In the past few weeks, I have counted at least a dozen different spellings of the eight-day holiday that began at sundown Thursday. Many of them come from thank-you notes my wife received from school children who she taught about the meaning of the holiday.

But other differences appear in holiday cards, in Jewish publications and when TV stations do their ethnic goodie-goodie public service stuff.

The most common spelling these days appears to be Hanukkah, but I don't favor it. When I was a kid, as I recall, it always was Chanukah - the first two letters pronounced with the guttural noise that sounds like you're clearing your throat.

Now, with Hanukkah seemingly prevailing, the pronunciation has slipped to where it sounds like HONN-oo-kah. No spittle!

For the uninitiated, the holiday commemorates both the victory of the Maccabee family of Jewish patriots in a revolt against the Syrians in the second century B.C.E. and the (miraculous) eight-day durability of one-day's amount of oil that burned in the lamp above the ark while the Maccabees rededicated their temple.

Here's the root of the problem: The name of the holiday comes from the Hebrew alphabet. Everything coming from that alphabet to our alphabet is transliterated. That means it's open to the translator's druthers.

I have before me an English-language weekly Jewish-interest newspaper in which all the headlines refer to it as ``Hanukkah.' However, the promotion ad from the newspaper itself, wishing its readers the best of the season, spells it ``Chanukah.'

Paul Johnson's ``A History of the Jews' spells it ``Hanukkah' - one n, two k's - while the translators of Sholom Aleichem's beloved Yiddish-written folk tales spell it ``Hannukah' - two n's, one K - with a parenthetical ``Channukah' in the glossary.

In ``Heritage: Civilization and the Jews,' Abba Eban, former foreign minister of Israel and one of the most articulate men I ever have heard or read, spells it the same way as does Johnson. But the late Leo Rosten, in ``The Joys of Yiddish,' uses four different spellings: Chanukah, Channukah, Hanuka and Hanukkah.

My Hebrew/English prayer book spells it ``Chanukah' but the English-language Jerusalem Post spells it ``Hanukka.' So there you go.

The ethnically mixed children from my wife's school project had a remarkable number of variations. One of the youngsters, obviously turned by trends, actually wrote ``eHannaka.' Others included Honica, Hannakh, Hunikah, Hanukeh and Hannaka.

Not all of them used a variation of the Hebrew word. There was little Marcus, who avoided the stinky situation. He wrote, simply: ``Happy Hollidass'.

That's my feeling, too. To one and all: Chappy Cholidays!


Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

  • Updated

Early Monday, the Union County school board voted 8-1 to immediately stop COVID-19 contact tracing and significantly curtail coronavirus quarantine requirements. Against advice of Union County’s health department as well as state and federal recommendations on reducing COVID-19 risks in classrooms, the school district will not require quarantine for students even if they’ve been in contact ...

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


Breaking News