Traditionally, Hanukkah was a minor event, but took on a new meaning following the rise of Jewish nationalism as a nationalist holiday, symbolizing the struggle of the Jewish people against foreign oppression and their desire for national re-creation. Hanukkah served as a common ground where both religious and secular Zionists could unite around their nationalist agenda. Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, an early religious Zionist, proposed making Hanukkah the official holiday of the proto-Zionist organization Hovevei Zion in Russia in 1881. Public celebrations of Hanukkah gained prominence in the early 20th century, with parades and public events becoming common. Schools in Mandate Palestine played an early role in promoting these celebrations.
The earliest Hanukkah link with the White House occurred in 1951 when Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion presented United States President Harry Truman with a Hanukkah menorah. In 1979 President Jimmy Carter took part in the first public Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony of the National Menorah held across the White House lawn. In 1989, President George H. W. Bush displayed a menorah in the White House. In 1993, President Bill Clinton invited a group of schoolchildren to the Oval Office for a small ceremony.
The United States Postal Service has released several Hanukkah-themed postage stamps. In 1996, the United States Postal Service (USPS) issued a 32 cent Hanukkah stamp as a joint issue with Israel. In 2004, after eight years of reissuing the menorah design, the USPS issued a dreidel design for the Hanukkah stamp. The dreidel design was used through 2008. In 2009 a Hanukkah stamp was issued with a design featured a photograph of a menorah with nine lit candles. In 2008, President George W. Bush held an official Hanukkah reception in the White House where he linked the occasion to the 1951 gift by using that menorah for the ceremony, with a grandson of Ben-Gurion and a grandson of Truman lighting the candles.
In 2013, on 28 November, the American holiday of Thanksgiving fell during Hanukkah for only the third time since Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday by President Abraham Lincoln. The last time was 1899, and due to the nature of the Gregorian and Jewish calendars being slightly out of sync with each other, it will not happen again in the foreseeable future. This rare convergence prompted the creation of the neologism Thanksgivukkah.
In December 2014, two Hanukkah celebrations were held at the White House. The White House commissioned a menorah made by students at the Max Rayne school in Israel and invited two of its students to join U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama as they welcomed over 500 guests to the celebration. The students' school in Israel had been subjected to arson by extremists. President Obama said these "students teach us an important lesson for this time in our history. The light of hope must outlast the fires of hate. That's what the Hanukkah story teaches us. It's what our young people can teach us – that one act of faith can make a miracle, that love is stronger than hate, that peace can triumph over conflict." Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl, in leading prayers at the ceremony commented on the how special the scene was, asking the President if he believed America's founding fathers could possibly have pictured that a female Asian-American rabbi would one day be at the White House leading Jewish prayers in front of the African-American president.
In December 2022, New York City Mayor Eric Adams, Reverends Al Sharpton and Conrad Tillard, businessman Robert F. Smith, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, and Elisha Wiesel joined to celebrate Hanukkah and Kwanzaa together, and combat racism and antisemitism, at Carnegie Hall.