The Proper Time to Light
The proper time to light Chanukah candles is at the “emergence of the stars” which is approximately fifteen minutes after sunset this time of year. Some Ashkenazim light Chanukah candles immediately at sunset. If one has not lit at this time, one should light as soon as possible thereafter. Even if one was very delayed, one may light Chanukah candles with a blessing until dawn.
The Obligation to Light
We have already mentioned that the Sephardic custom is that only the head of the household lights Chanukah candles and the rest of the members of the household fulfill their obligation in this manner. The Ashkenazi custom, on the other hand, is that every member of the household light his own Chanukah candles. We have also mentioned that women are obligated in the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles as well. Thus, a single woman or a woman whose husband is out of town must light Chanukah candles on her own. Similarly, if a man knows that he will arrive home late at night, he may appoint his wife as his agent to light the Chanukah candles on his behalf and she should subsequently light the candles with a blessing and the husband will fulfill his obligation in spite of the fact that he is not home.
A Child Lighting Chanukah Candles
Since the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles applies only to men and women above the age of Bar/Bat Mitzvah, if a child under this age lights the Chanukah candles, the adult members of the household will not fulfill their obligation through his lighting. One should therefore not allow a child to light the Chanukah candles. Rather, the head of the household should light the first candle and if he wishes, he may allow a child to light the rest of the candles according to the letter of the law (although it is preferable for the father and son to light these candles together). The extra “Shammash” candle may be lit by anyone.
Regarding the law that a child may not light Chanukah candles, some say that a child of twelve years of age may light Chanukah candles (see Zivchei Tzedek, Volume 3, Chapter 41). This law is nevertheless doubtful. Nonetheless, if it happened that a child recited the blessings and lit Chanukah candles, there is no need to extinguish them and light other ones (see Chazon Ovadia-Chanukah, page 49).
Stipulation Regarding the Chanukah Candles
The sanctity of the Mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles rests on the remaining oil and wicks of the Chanukah candles. One must therefore burn them after Chanukah. In order to avoid such a situation, it is appropriate that one stipulate before Chanukah that one does not intend to designate the oil and wicks for the sake of the Mitzvah. In this way, no sanctity will rest on the remaining oil and wicks and one will be free to use it as one wishes.