How do you spell Hanukkah? That’s a question that trips a lot of people up when it comes to writing out holiday greetings. You’ve got Hanukkah, Hannukah, Chanukah, and dozens of other spellings, but it turns out that there’s no right answer. All the different spellings you see technically count as correct.
That’s because of something called transliteration, which is “the process of transferring a word from the alphabet of one language to another,” according to Dictionary.com. The name of the eight-day Jewish holiday originates in the language of Hebrew, where it’s spelled as חנוכה. When you translate it into the English alphabet, however, there’s no exact spelling equivalent.
Hanukkah is the most popular spelling.
If you use Hanukkah, then you’re definitely in the majority. It’s the most common spelling nowadays, possibly due to the fact that it looks exactly how it sounds in English. The term has over 26.7 million hits on Google — way more than the other variations combined — and it’s the primary spelling used by Merriam-Webster.
But Chanukah is more traditional.
This one might trip up English readers thinking that the “ch” in the beginning is pronounced like “Charlie.” It’s actually pronounced like the ending of “Bach,” as Jewish organization Chabad puts it. English doesn’t have a letter that sounds like that, so we go with “H” instead.
Even though Chanukah comes in second place on Google today (with over 6.3 million hits), it was once the most popular. According to NPR, Chanukah was the go-to spelling back in 2005, when it had the most search hits compared to the other variations.
Hannukah is on its way out.
Then there’s Hannukah, which is extremely similar to the first (and most popular) spelling. Searching Google for Hannukah automatically delivers the results for Hanukkah instead, but you can easily override it — the original results only provide 2.8 million results. Every other spelling variation you could possibly think of returns even fewer hits.
It’s safe to say you won’t be wrong going for Hanukkah or Chanukah, but either way, the transliteration doesn’t change the definition. They all refer to the Jewish Festival of Lights, and the word itself means “dedication.” You can celebrate Hanukkah this year between December 2 and December 10 with lots of latkes, chocolate gelt, and sufganiyot (a.k.a. jelly donuts).