Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated in December normally a week or so before the Christian holiday of Christmas. It is not one of the important religious holidays in the Jewish faith but it is a joyous holiday. It is often referred to as the “Festival of Lights”. It commemorates the physical and spiritual victory of the Jews over the Greeks more than 2150 years ago. Jerusalem was conquered by Alexander the Great. When he died his empire was divided among the Greek rulers who then gained control of the Jewish land. They forced the Jews to adopt Greek dress and customs to establish conformity in religious and political practices. They even changed the Temple in Jerusalem which was the national house of worship to a temple to the Greek god, Zeus. Mattathias was a Jewish priest who began a revolution when he refused to worship the Greek gods. His sons joined him and later his son Judah Macabee led a small group of soldiers and conquered the temple. They were able to eventually drive the Greeks right out of Jerusalem. After the temple was conquered it was rededicated and it is said that a miracle occurred at this ceremony. Hanukkah means re-dedication in Hebrew. They had to re-consecrate the temple because of the offensive practices that the Greeks had performed there.
They had to relight the eternal flame on the Menorah. The Jews only used sacred olive oil for the eternal flame and were only able to find enough for one day. It took eight days to make more sacred oil. The miracle occurred when the one day supply of oil lasted the entire eight days. This is why Hanukkah or “Festival of Lights” is a Jewish holiday that lasts eight nights and candles are lit every night. Hanukkah is a festive time for gathering and celebrating with friends and family. The menorah is a candelabrum which is used for Hanukkah celebrations. It has nine candles – one for each of the eight nights and the ninth is called the Shamash which means servant and it is the candle used to light the others.
The Shamash is placed in the middle and at a different height from the others. Candles are lit from left to right. Families and friends gather at dusk to light the menorah every night during Hanukkah and sing blessings as the candles are lit. Small gifts are exchanged each night and games are played. The most popular game is played using the dreidel which is a spinning top with four sides. Favorite foods are fried because of the meaning of oil to the holiday. Potato pancakes fried in oil called latkes are typically served. Some people think the Hanukkah celebration is something like the Jewish Christmas. The blue and white colors of Hanukkah are marketed more heavily each year. Many Christmas wreath companies offer Christmas wreaths with the blue, white and silver colors of Hanukkah. Both Hanukkah and Christmas are joyous celebrations for Christians and Jews and even though they have separate religious meanings it’s nice that mixed families can celebrate their holidays in the same joyous manner.