It is spelled several different ways: Hannakuh...Hannuka...but the significance of the word cannot be changed by an extra consonant or vowel. Hannuka is commonly known as the "Festival of Lights". And it is a celebration literally as old as time itself and recognized by men and women of the Jewish faith all over the world.
Hannuka and Hannakuh translate to "dedication". Traditionally, this Jewish festival begins on the Hebrew calendar date of the 25th of Kislev. Hannuka and Hanukkah (depending on the region, the word may include an extra "n" or "k') lasts eight days, through the 2nd of Tevet. Those Hebrew dates fall on different day throughout November and December. This year - 2005 - Hannuka begins on December 25th and lasts through January 1st.
Although the historical roots of Hannuka concern itself with the battle between the Maccabees over the Syrians, the actual significance of the eight-candle Menorah lends itself to the fact that when the Maccabees re-dedicated their temple after the battle, they found on the mount only one jar of (sacramental) lamp oil. Typically, one jar of oil would last for one day, but incredibly this jar burned for eight days. And so it is that the Hannuka celebration lasts for eight days.
Getting back to the significance of referring to Hannuka as the "Festival of Light", the candle-lighting ceremony is certainly the most important past of the Hannuka celebration. Men and women of the Jewish faith light candles in the special Menorah also referred to by some as a "hanukkiah". Every night, an additional candle is lit, always with the middle candle which is called the "shamash". So, on the first night of Hannuka, two candles are actually lit, the first in the menorah and the middle candle -- the shamash. This particular practice varies. Not everyone recognizes the middle candle. In other parts of the world the candle from the previous night is used to light the next candle.
Regardless, the candles are left to their own devices and stay lit until they burn out.
In terms of religious significance, Hannuka does not rank high on the list, there are other days that are officially recognized by the Jewish faith: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover to name just a few. But Hannuka is still a special event if for no other reason than the lighting of the Menorah.
The candles are arranged in the Menorah, an eight-branch candelabrum. The Menorah is also referred to as the Hannukiah. The Menorah actually contains 9 candles. One candle for each night of the celebration and one that sits in its center that is used to light the candles each night. On the first night of Hannuka, one candle is placed in the Menorah at the far right. Then, each successive night, another candle is added from right to left, but lit from left to right. The candles are left to burn at their own rate. They are never blown out.
The Hannuka candles are special candles used only for the celebration of Hannuka. And the ninth candle, called the shammus, is a different height from the other eight, and that candle also is sacred and should not be used for any other purpose.