Your burning Hanukkah questions, answered

A small group of pre-schoolers from Gan HaYeled learn how to light a Hanukkah menorah from Rabbi Sarah Krinsky at Adas Israel Congregation November 30, 2018 in Washington, DC. This year, Hanukkah will begin at sundown on December 22 and last until sundown on December 30.

(CNN)Despite what some holiday movies will have you believe, Hanukkah is not the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, nor is it an insurmountably difficult holiday to learn about. If you're curious, here are a few basic questions many non-Jews (and even some Jews!) have about the holiday:

All right, so it's not "Jewish Christmas." Then what is it?
    Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 160s BC. After outlawing the Jewish religion and Jewish practices, then-King Antiochus IV decreed that Jews must worship Greek gods in the Temple. Eventually, Jewish priest Mattahias, his son Judah Maccabee, and their army (creatively called The Maccabees) revolted, ultimately forcing Antiochus IV out of Judea. Maccabee and his followers reclaimed the Temple and rebuilt the altar.
    Gingerbread cookies in the shape of Stars of David and decorated with a Hanukkiah candelabrum.
    Ok ... so what's with the candles?
    You may have heard Hanukkah referred to as "The Festival of Lights" and might already be familiar with a menorah. Menorahs have long been a symbol used in Judaism, and when the altar was rebuilt by Maccabee and co., part of that included relighting the menorahs. The soldiers only had enough oil to light the menorah for a single night, but the story goes that the little bit of oil lasted for eight full nights. Thus: the Miracle of Hanukkah. That's why the celebration lasts eight nights.
    Although most people use the word menorah in the context of Hanukkah, what observers are actually lighting is called a hanukkiah (ha-noo-kee-ah). It looks very similar to a menorah with eight prongs, but has a ninth candle, the Shamash, used to light the other candles.
    What are some other ways to observe the holiday?
    Many modern Jewish families celebrate by lighting the hanukkiah. One candle per night of Hanukkah is lit, like Hebrew is read, from right to left. People might also play dreidel games and eat certain foods like sufganiyot (similar to jelly donuts) and latkes (fried potato pancakes). Both foods are fried in oil, commemorative of the miracle of the Maccabees' long-burning oil.
    Important note: There is an ongoing and spirited debate about whether latkes are best served with applesauce or sour cream. The correct answer is both, in my humble opinion.
    Of course, there is also the time-honored tradition of watching "The Rugrats Chanukah" --an enjoyable cinematic experience for all ages.
    What is a dreidel and why is it played on Hanukkah?