Hanukkah does not start until Dec. 25 this year but it was observed early at the White House on Tuesday evening.

President Bush helped light a 38-inch gold and bronze menorah, which was loaned to the White House by the Park Synagogue of Cleveland. He said the nation is grateful to American troops of all faiths who are away from their families this holiday season.

"We are grateful for our freedoms as Americans, especially the freedom to worship," he said. "We are grateful that freedom is spreading to still new regions of the world, and we pray that those who still live in the darkness of tyranny will some day see the light of freedom."

Hanukkah commemorates the Jews' successful rebellion against suppression of their religion under the Syrian-Greek empire in 165 B.C. Led by the Maccabee family, the Jews drove the Greeks from Jerusalem and reclaimed the Jerusalem Temple for religious services.

The story says there was only enough oil to burn the temple menorah for one day, but that miraculously it burned for eight days. Accordingly, Jews light the menorah on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.

Bush, Rabbi Joshua Skoff of the Park Synagogue, Skoff's wife and members of the family lit all eight candles on the menorah, which was made in Poland over a century ago and brought to the United States shortly after World War I. Skoff joked that his children were excited that their Hanukkah celebration is starting so early.

White House officials explained that because the White House celebration did not fall during Hanukkah, there was no blessing.

After the lighting, the West Point Jewish Cadet Choir sang for the president and guests attended a reception at the executive mansion.

Bush also met earlier in the day with leaders from Jewish day schools from across the United States. He said they are fulfilling the true lesson of Hanukkah every day of the year.