Chanukah or Hanukkah? What Is the Correct Spelling of the Festival of Lights

Clean out the shamash and heat up the latke pan because it's time to celebrate Chanukah or Hanukkah or perhaps Hannukah.

Unlike Christmas that has one spelling (not including the ever-so-popular xmas abbreviation), there are more than a dozen ways people spell the Jewish festival of lights. Confusion over how to spell the holiday isn't reserved for Gentiles and rabbis have been stumped over some of the spellings.

The topic's even served as a muse to a song. No, it's not Adam Sandler's famous "Hanukkah Song," but The LeeVees' "How Do You Spell Channukkahh?"

While some versions were likely created out of the accidental slipping in of an extra "k" or "n," confusion over the proper spelling of the holiday can also be attributed to transliteration or a word used to describe the process of transferring a word from the alphabet of one language to another. In this instance, spelling the Jewish holiday in English requires translating it from Hebrew.

As it's written in Hebrew, the first letter of the holiday is Chet, the eighth letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Pronounced with a guttural sound from the throat, the closest English pronunciation is the "ch" sound in Johann Brach, according to Chabad, an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement.

chanukah or hanukkah spelling of festival lights
Menorah on the National Mall on December 7, 2013, in Washington, D.C. Hanukkah will begin on Sunday night and the confusion over how to spell the Jewish festival of lights stems from transliteration. Walter McBride/Corbis/Getty

While some might consider the case to be closed and that Chanukah should be spelled with a "ch," it's not so simple. Although the "ch" in Brach is a similar pronunciation to Chet, the closest sounding letter in the English alphabet is "h," birthing the spelling of the holiday as "Hanukkah."

Now, what about the n's and k's? Rabbi Daniel Zemel of the Temple Micah in Washington, D.C., told NPR in 2005 that he had "no idea" why someone would spell the holiday with multiple n's. The double k however, could be due to Hebrew having two ways of making the k sound. Using two k's could be used to show it's the letter Kaf and not Kuf.

Unlike the strange stare a person may receive for misspelling Passover, when it comes to Hanukkah, there's a pretty liberal spelling policy. Generally, Chanukah and Hanukkah are considered the most popular choices and the Associated Press uses Hanukkah.

Regardless of how a person chooses to spell the holiday, the significance remains the same. Following the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, Judah Maccabee successfully led a revolt and called for the temple to be rebuilt and the menorah to be lit. With only enough oil to light the menorah for one day, the flames burned for eight.

Centuries later, in a celebration known as Hanukkah (or Chanukah), people of the Jewish faith light their own menorahs for eight nights to remind themselves of God's miracle. On Sunday, the middle candle, known as the shamash, will light one candle signaling the first night and a subsequent candle will be added for each additional night, with all eight being lit on the last night.

Head spinning from the confusion over how to spell Hanukkah? Don't even look into yarmulke.