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Hanukkah vs. Kwanzaa: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 1, 2024
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, while Kwanzaa is an African-American celebration of culture and community values.

Key Differences

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, originates from a Jewish historical event, the Maccabean Revolt, and is celebrated to remember the miracle of the Temple's menorah burning for eight days with limited oil. Kwanzaa, created in 1966, is an African-American and Pan-African holiday that celebrates family, community, and culture, focusing on seven core principles known as the Nguzo Saba.
Hanukkah is marked by lighting the menorah, one candle for each night of the eight-day festival, playing with dreidels, and eating oil-based foods. Kwanzaa is observed over seven days, with each day dedicated to a specific principle, involving activities like lighting a kinara (candle holder), sharing African feasts, and giving gifts.
Hanukkah holds religious significance in Judaism and is tied to a historical religious event, whereas Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration without specific religious connotations, emphasizing African heritage and unity.
Both holidays occur in December, but Hanukkah's dates vary within the month as it follows the Hebrew calendar, while Kwanzaa is celebrated from December 26th to January 1st each year.
Key symbols of Hanukkah include the menorah, dreidels, and gelt (chocolate coins), while Kwanzaa decorations often feature the colors black, red, and green, the kinara, and African art.

Comparison Chart


Jewish historical event
African-American and Pan-African celebration


8 days
7 days

Key Activities

Lighting menorah, playing dreidel
Lighting kinara, discussing principles


Religious, celebrating a miracle
Cultural, celebrating African heritage

Typical Celebrations

Eating oil-based foods, exchanging gifts
Sharing feasts, performing music and dances

Hanukkah and Kwanzaa Definitions


An eight-day Jewish celebration of the Temple's rededication.
They lit the menorah every evening during Hanukkah.


Focuses on unity, self-determination, and community.
Kwanzaa is a time to reaffirm our commitment to our community.


Known as the Festival of Lights for the menorah lighting.
Hanukkah brings light and joy in the winter months.


A week-long celebration of African heritage.
During Kwanzaa, they shared stories of their ancestors.


Marks the Maccabean Revolt against Greek-Syrian rulers.
Hanukkah reminds us of the struggle for religious freedom.


Involves feasting, music, and dance.
Their Kwanzaa celebration included traditional African dances.


A time for Jewish families to come together and celebrate.
Our family has a big dinner every Hanukkah.


Each day of Kwanzaa is dedicated to a specific principle.
The first day of Kwanzaa celebrates Umoja, meaning unity.


Often involves the exchange of gifts and charitable acts.
They donated to the needy as part of their Hanukkah tradition.


A time to reflect on cultural identity and values.
Kwanzaa provides an opportunity to reconnect with our cultural roots.


An eight-day festival beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, commemorating the victory in 165 BC of the Maccabees over Antiochus Epiphanes (c. 215-164 BC) and the rededication of the Temple at Jerusalem. Also called Feast of Dedication, Feast of Lights, Festival of Lights.


An African American cultural festival, celebrated from December 26 to January 1.


(Judaism) an eight-day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem in 165 BC


A festival featuring African-American culture; celebrated between Christmas and New Years


What does Kwanzaa mean?

Kwanzaa means "first fruits" in Swahili, reflecting its roots in African harvest festivals.

How was Kwanzaa created?

Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga as a way to celebrate African-American culture.

Can non-Jews celebrate Hanukkah?

While primarily a Jewish holiday, anyone can learn about or participate in Hanukkah traditions.

When is Hanukkah celebrated?

Hanukkah dates vary, falling in November or December based on the Hebrew calendar.

What foods are traditionally eaten during Hanukkah?

Foods fried in oil, like latkes and sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), are traditional.

Is Kwanzaa a religious holiday?

No, Kwanzaa is a cultural celebration and is not tied to any religion.

What is the dreidel game?

The dreidel game is a traditional Hanukkah game played with a spinning top and often involves a pot of gelt (chocolate coins).

Is gift-giving a part of Hanukkah?

Yes, exchanging gifts is a common practice during Hanukkah.

What is the kinara?

The kinara is a candle holder used during Kwanzaa, holding seven candles representing the Nguzo Saba.

What is the significance of the menorah?

The menorah symbolizes the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Temple.

How do people celebrate Hanukkah?

Celebrations include lighting the menorah, playing dreidel, and exchanging gifts.

What are the seven principles of Kwanzaa?

Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith).

Is Hanukkah mentioned in the Bible?

Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible but is in the Talmud and other historical texts.

What activities take place during Kwanzaa?

Activities include lighting the kinara, discussing the daily principle, African feasts, storytelling, and cultural performances.

How do people decorate for Kwanzaa?

Decorations often include African art, colorful African cloth, the kinara, and crops representing the harvest.

Can Kwanzaa be celebrated alongside other holidays?

Yes, Kwanzaa can be celebrated in conjunction with other holidays, including Christmas and New Year's.

What is gelt in Hanukkah?

Gelt refers to money or chocolate coins given as gifts during Hanukkah.

Are there specific songs or music for Kwanzaa?

Kwanzaa celebrations often include African music and drumming, as well as songs related to the Nguzo Saba principles.

How do people light the menorah?

The menorah is lit by placing candles from right to left but lighting them from left to right, adding one candle each night.

What colors are associated with Kwanzaa?

Black, red, and green, representing the people, their struggle, and hope for the future.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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