The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and eight nights, and begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev on the lunar-based Jewish calendar. On a secular calendar, the dates vary from year to year, and can begin in either November or December. Hanukkah is also referred to as the Festival of Lights, and the word Hanukkah itself means “dedication”. This holiday has become one of the most widely recognized of the Jewish traditions.
The Story Behind Hanukkah
The events that led to the celebration we now know as Hanukkah represent a very troubled time in Jewish history. The Land of Israel, also known as Judea, became controlled by the Seceulid king of Syria, Antiochus III, around 200 B.C. At this point, the Jews were still allowed to continue practicing their religion. This was not to remain true because in 167 B.C., the Jewish temple was overtaken by the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of Antiochus III, who forced the Jewish people to worship Greek gods and made practicing Judaism an offense for which death was the chosen punishment.
The Jewish People Rebel
This resulted in a Jewish resistance movement, where several Jewish people joined together to rebel against the Greeks and reclaim their lands. This rebellion was led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons. With the death of Mattathias in 166 B.C., his son Judah took over leadership of the rebellion and employed tactics similar to that of guerilla warfare in order to drive the Syrians out of Jerusalem. Eventually, after a period of about two years, the Jewish people were successful in regaining control of their Temple in Jerusalem.
The Temple had been defiled by the sacrificing of pigs and the worship of foreign gods during its Syrian occupation. In order to purify their Temple, the Jews planned to perform the burning of ritual oil in the Temple for a period of eight days. It was then realized that only enough ritual oil was left to burn for one day; but something wonderful happened and the oil lasted the entire eight days. This event was recognized as a miracle by the Jewish sages, and they proclaimed that an eight day celebration should be held each year to commemorate what happened during the rededication of the Temple. Hanukkah is celebrated to remember the miracle of the ritual oil, which is why the celebration is eight days long.
Hanukkah has inspired many Jewish traditions, including the lighting of the menorah, playing the dreidel game, receiving gifts on each of the eight nights, and eating foods cooked in oil representing the miracle of the oil lasting a full eight days.