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.