When Does Hanukkah Start? That Depends on the Year

The date of Hanukkah changes depending on which calendar you're looking at.

Lighting a menorah for Hanukkah
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Without fail, Christmas falls every year on Dec. 25. And about a week later, we celebrate New Year's Eve on Dec. 31. But while those who observe Christmas can always plan their holiday festivities for the same day annually, people who celebrate Hanukkah—the eight-day Festival of Lights—aren't so lucky. So when does Hanukkah start in 2019? And why is the date different every year?

This year, the Jewish holiday begins on Dec. 22; last year, it started on Dec. 2; and the year prior, its first night fell on Dec. 12. The reason for the yearly shift is less complicated than you think: It all comes down to the calendar we're using.

In fact, the dates during which we celebrate Hanukkah don't technically change. Hanukkah always begins on the same date—the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, according to Chabad—but since the Jewish calendar doesn't align with the Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah for us can happen at any point in November or December.

The Hebrew calendar is lunisolar, which means that the months are lunar but the years are solar. So while the months in the Hebrew calendar are based on the cycles of the moon, the lengths of those months—and even how many months are in a year—are modified in order to make sure that Passover always falls in the spring, as religious writer Joel M. Hoffman, PhD, explains for HuffPost. Meanwhile, the Gregorian calendar, which is what we primarily use in the U.S., is strictly a solar calendar.

So while Hanukkah might feel like it falls on a different day every year, that's only because we follow the Gregorian calendar. In reality, the Jewish holiday does happen on the same eight days every year—you just have to know which calendar to be looking at. And if you'd like to learn more about the Festival of Lights, check out these 30 Amazing Facts About Hanukkah That'll Make Your Holiday Bright.

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