Why Does Hanukkah Change Dates Every Year?

While Christmas is celebrated every December 25, year in and year out, the date for Hanukkah is a moving target. Here's why.

Trying to figure out when to give your Jewish friend a Hanukkah gift can be a bit of a challenge. In 2018, the holiday began on the evening of December 2nd, while in 2019, it begins on the 22nd of December, according to the Gregorian calendar which follows the sun. Just like Christmas, the beginning of Hanukkah always falls on the 25th of the month, however, it is not in the month of December that it falls on. Hanukkah begins on the 25th of the ninth month of the Jewish calendar, Kislev, and this calendar follows the moon. While the dates of Jewish holidays may seem random, the Jewish calendar is actually a carefully calibrated system that ensures that holy days and festivals arrive on the proper day and season. Find out what the word “Hanukkah” means.

The Jewish calendar is based on a lunar calendar

One reason for the changing dates, notes Rabbi Norman Patz of Temple Sholom of West Essex in Cedar Grove, New Jersey and visiting Rabbi of Temple Beth Shalom in San Juan, Puerto Rico, is that the Jewish calendar is based on a lunar calendar that is adjusted to a solar calendar. While the secular calendar revolves around the sun and is 365 days, the Jewish calendar is based on the moon which waxes and wanes and is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. Rabbi Patz notes that the Jewish calendar adds a leap month (Adar I) every two or three years, for a total of seven times every 19 years.

Reconciling the calendar keeps order

The Jewish calendar begins with the month of Nissan (March/April) followed by Iyar, Sivan, Tammuz, Av, Elul, Tishri, Cheshvan, Kislev, Tevet, Shevar, Adar I (added), and Adar. By reconciling the calendar, the natural order of festivals stays in their seasons. “Sukkot is a festival that celebrates the harvest and comes in the fall. If it were 11 days shorter, it would end up in the spring,” notes Rabbi Patz. He also notes that the Muslim calendar is also based on the moon, but they don’t reconcile it, which is why the holy month of Ramadan also varies year to year. Here’s why we light menorahs on Hanukkah.

It is the year 5780

While we on the solar calendar are wrapping up 2019, it is 5780 on the Jewish calendar. Jews do not use AD or BC, but note Common Era (CE) and Before Common Era (BCE).

Now that’s cleared up, you’ll want to be sure to check out these best Hanukkah-themed gifts.

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Stacey Marcus
Stacey Marcus is a regular contributor to RD.com where she covers subjects ranging from penguin secrets to Jeopardy! conundrums. Stacey’s work has also appeared on FamilyHandyman.com and TheHealthy.com as well as in top regional and national outlets including Boston magazine, Boston Common Magazine, Destination I Do, Ocean Home Magazine, and Playboy.com. She earned a BA in Communications from Simmons University.