The menorah symbolizes God's miraculous provision of light after Israel's liberation from its oppressors more than two-thousand years ago - a victory chronicled in the ancient books of the Maccabees.
Hanukkah is also celebrated with festive foods, games and the exchange of gifts.
At the White House, for the first time ever, there will be a Hanukkah reception, hosted by the President and the First Lady. The menorah, which is 100 years old, is on loan from the Jewish Museum in New York.
In Moscow, a 16-foot-tall menorah was lit near the Kremlin.
In Kabul, the only two Jews in that city celebrated the fall of the Taliban by lighting Hanukkah candles for the first time in years.
"The Taliban said before that I was originally a Muslim," recalled Ishak Levin, in Kabul. "Why did I choose to be Jewish? I have always been Jewish. I would never change my religion, even though they beat me, I wouldn't become a Muslim."
In a similar vein, Levin's neighbor, Zebulon Simentov, said "God is very kind. He sent the Taliban away. The Taliban are fascists. The Taliban are bad people. The Taliban are terrorists."
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lit the first menorah candle at the spot where suicide bombers killed eleven Israelis a week earlier.
In New York, an eight-foot-tall menorah was lit Sunday at Ground Zero - which already has a Christmas tree - to mark the first night of Hanukkah.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, the Jewish chaplain for New York's fire department, spoke at the ceremony.
He says the lesson is, "they can take down the towers, they can remove the structures, but they can't take away the symbols we hold so dear."
Rescue workers and several relatives of victims gathered near the rubble of the World Trade Center after sunset for the Festival of Lights.
Eighteen-month-old Laura Lehrfeld, who lost her father in the attack, lit the menorah's first candle.
A similar ceremony will take place on each of the next seven nights of Hanukkah.
Several prominent New York faces were not on hand for the Hanukkah observance.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, New York Mayor-elect Michael Bloomberg and New York Governor George Pataki were in Jerusalem instead, where they joined Sharon and Israeli's Chief Rabbi, Meir Lau, at a Hanukkah ceremony in Zion Square.
In Las Vegas, the celebration was less solemn, with singing, free dreidels (traditional Hanukkah toys) and free latkes (potato pancakes).
Over a thousand people turned out as Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman lit the city's 20-foot-high menorah, proclaiming his joy in the religious freedom that permits such celebrations to be held.
"I feel very, very secure and happy," said Goodman.
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