Holidays in Philly

How does Philly spell Hanukkah? Chanukah? Hannukah? Channukkah? Hanuka?

Can we finally agree on this, please?

Dan Levy

Every year on this day I send a variation of the same tweet:

Happy (C)han(n)uk(k)a(h)! Or however you spell it.

This can be a confusing time for young Jewish boys and girls, explaining to their friends why they get eight presents over the course of eight nights — not days — while friends get to tear open all their gifts on one merry morning. The whole “why doesn’t Santa come to your house” is an inherently awkward question for Jewish kids to answer, no less awkward than “why do you light those candles and read that book backwards?”

But as the festival of lights begins this year, ‘tis the season to remember that there’s no more confusing question than “How do you spell Hanukkah?”

Similarly asked, “How do you spell Chanukah?”

It’s hard enough this time of year for people who don’t celebrate Christmas — full disclosure: my kids are the spoiled types who get to celebrate both, so we have a single Hanukkah shelf, as yuletide, tannenbaum and bowls full of jelly have infiltrated nearly every other surface of our home —  why can’t we agree on how to spell our own holiday?!

Our Hanukkah shelf can't even agree how to spell Chanukah

Our Hanukkah shelf can't even agree how to spell Chanukah

Dan Levy/Billy Penn

This is not the first time I’ve kvetched about this subject, but the frustration has only grown in recent years, like constant drip of melted wax piling up and hardening on my very soul. Sorry if this makes me sound like a shmendrick, but what if we started adding silent letters to the beginning or end of more widely celebrated holidays, like Thanksgiving or Easter? Try changing how Christmas is spelled and see how people react to that.

But with Hanukkah — er, Chanukah — it’s a fakakta free-for-all. A cacophony of guttural utterances spread across eight days. Sorry, eight nights.

In previous iterations of this post, I came across a 2011 story published by Time that asked this very question. They had no answer either, positing that narrowing it down to two is the closest we’ll get to a consensus:

“As little as about five years ago, the top spelling choice on the Internet was Chanukah. But times are changing, even in the way the Jewish holiday of lights is celebrated and understood, and the Hanukkah spelling has gone mainstream. So, if you like to slightly buck the trend and go old school, Chanukah is your spelling.”

Realizing that spellcheck and Siri are now impacting how we name things — yes, we have autocorrect for a word with multiple spellings — I then reached out to some of my dad’s friends on Facebook, figuring they’ve dealt with this far longer than my generation, and was told, “one could go bonkers trying to choose.”

I was then referred to a Romanization chart, which only made me more confused and farklempt. (Or is it verklempt? Oy vey!)

The Ch vs. H debate, I’ve been told, depends on if you use the Ashkanazic or the Sephardic pronunciation. Yes, it’s not pronounced “Cha-new-kah” but the “Ch” can have a more plegmish sound, like if one were caught clearing their throat before, and perhaps during, the prayer.

Given there was no national consensus, I thought the spelling differences might be regional. There are about 9 million people in America with Jewish background (though we can’t even agree on that number, based on who is practicing, non-practicing or those of us thrust into the “both” category as we light our menorah while standing under the mistletoe.) If we can’t agree on how to spell Chanukah across the country, maybe Philly Jews can all agree?

Okay! Now we’re cooking with only a little bit of oil. The National Museum of American Jewish History spells it Hanukkah.

An official press release from the office of the mayor spells the holiday Hanukkah and Philly Parks and Rec spells it Hanukkah, too.

So that’s that, yes? Philly spells it Hanukkah? Sometimes.

If Abe Fisher — the Mike Solomonov restaurant on Sansom Street that celebrates Jewish cooking from around the world “through the lens of our childhood memories” spells it Chanukah, then everyone else in Philly is wrong.

Or are we?

Yes, two of Solomonov’s most prominent restaurants spell the holiday differently! If the social team at Cook N Solo can’t agree, how can we?

And so, this circuitous journey goes back to the only place it can, nay must, go — Old local Jews.

Wise, old Philly Jews have to know the right answer to this c(h)onundrum, and so I asked two of the wisest old Jews I could think to ask: Ed Rendell and Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz.

A representative for the former Philly mayor and governor of Pennsylvania said:

He spells it Chanukah and said you should feel free to use that in your story.

It’s a mitzvah! We’ve got our answer! All we need is confirmation from Schwartz and…

Hey Dan,

Glenn spells it Hanukkah.

Oy gevalt.

Alas, we can’t decide, so as you light your c(h)andles this (c)holiday season, know we all can all take c(h)omfort in something: There’s an H. And a K. And, sometimes, two of each, like the two As. But only ever one U. And maybe a C, depending on your phlegm levels.

So happy Hanukkah or Chanukah or Hannukah or Chanukkah or Hannukkah or Hanukah or Hanuka or Channukkah, and hey that’s eight ways, which gives us a different spelling each night! Just please don’t ask which we should use for what night.

Want some more? Explore other Holidays in Philly stories.

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