Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights, starting on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). In Hebrew, the word "Hanukkah" means "dedication."
Lighting the candles The holiday commemorates the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem after the Jews' 165 B.C.E. victory over the Hellenist Syrians. Antiochus, the Greek King of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.
In 168 B.C.E. the Jews' holy Temple was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus.
Some Jews were afraid of the Greek soldiers and obeyed them, but most were angry and decided to fight back.
Hassidic Hanukkah The fighting began in Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem. A Greek officer and soldiers assembled the villagers, asking them to bow to an idol and eat the flesh of a pig, activities forbidden to Jews. The officer asked Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony. He refused, and another villager stepped forward and offered to do it instead. Mattathias became outraged, took out his sword and killed the man, then killed the officer. His five sons and the other villagers then attacked and killed the soldiers. Mattathias' family went into hiding in the nearby mountains, where many other Jews who wanted to fight the Greeks joined them. They attacked the Greek soldiers whenever possible.
About a year after the rebellion started, Mattathias died. Before his death, he put his brave son Judah Maccabee in charge of the growing army. After three years of fighting, the Jews defeated the Greek army, despite having fewer men and weapons.
Lighting the Candles Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the holy Temple, and were saddened that many things were missing or broken, including the golden menorah. They cleaned and repaired the Temple, and when they were finished, they decided to have a big dedication ceremony. For the celebration, the Maccabees wanted to light the menorah. They looked everywhere for oil, and found a small flask that contained only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days. This gave them enough time to obtain new oil to keep the menorah lit. Today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night, thus commemorating the eight-day miracle.
The History Channel
The story of Hanukkah is the struggle for religious freedom. Over two thousand years ago, the foreign rulers of the Israelites decreed that the Jews bow down to the image of their leader, Antiochus, whose statue was erected in the Temple.
But the Jewish people were forbidden by the law of God to bow to statues or idols. Inspired by Mattathias and led by his son, Judah, a small group of Jews called Maccabees (meaning “hammer”) rebelled. The Maccabees risked their lives to live according to Jewish law and to prevent this desecration of their sacred Temple. Although the Maccabees won, the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jews’ holy place, was destroyed. The Jews had to clean and repair the Temple, and when they were finished they rededicated it to God by rekindling the menorah, the candelabrum symbolizing the eternal covenant between God and the Jewish people and the continuity of tradition through the generations. But there was only enough olive oil to fuel the menorah for one night, and it would have taken eight days to make more oil. The legend of the miracle at Hanukkah says that the one day supply of oil burned for eight days and nights until more oil could be made.
There are eight days of Hanukkah corresponding to the legend of the miracle of the oil in the Temple. Foods cooked in oil are traditional, particularly potato pancakes, called latkes. Today, candles are used instead of oil. On each successive night, the number of candles lit increases by one. Prayers accompany the lighting of the candles.
Hanukkah is celebrated in the home beginning on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev. Even though it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, Hanukkah is widely celebrated as a major holy day of the Jewish liturgical calendar. Given its proximity to Christmas, Hanukkah has taken on importance in the United States and many other countries where Christmas has been commercialized.
It is traditional to give small gifts to children on each night of Hanukkah. The party atmosphere is enhanced with songs, games and toys such as a dreidel – a spinning top. Yet the religious celebration – the lighting of the candles with accompanying prayers – must come before the party.
Above portion from Jewish Outreach Institute
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