The Chanukah menorah, also called a “hanukkiah,” is a nine-branched candleholder and one of the most common symbols of Chanukah.
Just after sundown, family members and friends gather around the menorah and recite blessings as the middle candle, the shamash, is lit. The shamash candle is a little taller than the others and is the helper candle that is used to light the other candles from left to right. One candle on the menorah is lit on each of Chanukah's eight nights.
Each night, another candle is added from right to left (like the Hebrew language, which is read from right to left). Candles are lit from left to right (because you pay honor to the newer thing first). On the eighth night, all nine candles (the 8 Chanukah candles and the shamash) are lit. On nights after the first, only the first two blessings are recited; the third blessing, called “she-hekhianu” is only recited on the first night of holidays. (See blessings below).
Lighting the Chanukah menorah is an important part of celebrating this Jewish holiday. According to the Hanukkah story, once Jewish revolutionaries had retaken the Temple from the Syrians they wanted to rededicate it to God and restore its ritual purity. Eight days worth of oil were needed to complete the ritual purification, but they were only able to find one day's worth of oil. They lit the menorah anyway and miraculously, the oil lasted for eight full days. The menorah reminds us of this miracle of the Chanukah lights.
The Jewish people use a different, seven-candle menorah for their weekly Sabbaths (Shabbats). The seven is significant because God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. He asks us to rest on the seventh day too. “Shabbat” in English means “to rest.”
First candle lighting of the Menorah for this Chanukah will be on the evening of Tuesday, December 20th, 2011 (the first "day" of Chanukah being Wednesday, December 21st ). Candle lighting is each evening following that until the evening of Tuesday, December 27th. The last full day of Chanukah this year is Wednesday, December 28th .