Tu BiShvat (Hebrew for the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat) is the new year of the trees.
We read the entire Torah over a year, beginning the cycle on the same week as Simchat Torah. The Torah is divided into 54 portions – or parashiyot – and, generally, one portion is read each week on Shabbat.
A common explanation is that we eat latkes (potato pancakes) because they are cooked in oil and this remind us of the miracle that a single cruse of oil found in the Temple lasted for eight nights.
Two blessings are chanted or recited every night of Hanukkah. The first is a blessing over the candles themselves. The second blessing expresses thanks for the miracle of deliverance. A third blessing—the Shehecheyanu prayer, marking all joyous occasions in Jewish life—is chanted or recited only on the first night.
A menorah is a candelabra, and can be used for Hanukkah if it has nine stems. Another word for a Hanukkah menorah is hanukkiyah. A hanukkiyah has one stem for each of the eight days of Hanukkah, and one for the shamash, or “the helper candle” that is used to light the other candles. Candles are added each night from right to left and they are lit from left to right.
The word dreidel derives from a German word meaning “spinning top,” and is the toy used in a Hanukkah game adapted from an old German gambling game. Hanukkah was one of the few times of the year when rabbis permitted games of chance. The four sides of the top bear four Hebrew letters: nun, gimmel, hey, and shin. Players begin by putting into a central pot or “kitty” a certain number of coins, chocolate money known as gelt, nuts, buttons or other small objects.