"Hanukkah is the Festival of Lights. Instead of one day of presents, we have eight crazy nights." - Adam Sandler Yes, we've all heard these words played on the radio every holiday season, but do you really know the significance of Hanukkah? I'm going to give you the Cliff's Notes so you can impress your friends at your next Holiday party. (And remember to pass the latkes.)
Hanukkah or Chanukah, (or any possible other number of spellings) is an eight-day Jewish celebration dating back to the second century B.C. In fact, the word Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew.
The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place in 168 B.C. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the son of the King of Syria ordered his soldiers into Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city's holy Second Temple.
Judah Maccabee ("the Hammer"), the son of Matthathias, the Jewish Priest led the revolt, and within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem. He called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah - the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and which was meant to be kept burning every night.
The Hanukkah "Miracle"
According to the Talmud, one of Judaism's most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough olive oil to keep the menorah's candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This "miracle" inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.*
The holiday begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods like potato latkes and Hanukkah gelt (chocolate coins), dreidel games and gifts.
The story of Hanukkah does not appear in the Torah because the events that inspired the holiday occurred after it was written. It is, however, mentioned in the New Testament, in which Jesus attends a "Feast of Dedication."