By- Kelli Drummer-Avendano
Hanukkah is a celebration even older than Christmas, commemorating an event that took place around 200 B.C.E. What event was this? Why does Hanukkah last eight days? And, why is it also called the Festival of Lights? Read the following facts to find out the answers to these questions and more.
1. The Maccabean Revolt
In the second century B.C.E., Judea was controlled by the Syrian Seleucid Empire. According to ancient texts, the leader Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion and forced the Jews to worship Greek gods. He even went so far as to desecrate the holy Second Temple in Jerusalem by constructing an altar to Zeus. Shortly after this, Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee led a rebellion against the Seleucid Empire. Within two years, the Jews had regained control of Jerusalem.
2. The Miracle
After the Syrians were forced out of Jerusalem, Judah and his followers wanted to rededicate the holy Second Temple. They cleansed it, rebuilt the altar, and lit the menorah—a candelabrum with seven candles that were intended to burn every night. The Jews only had enough oil for the candles to burn for one night. Nevertheless, a miracle occurred and the menorah continued burning for eight nights, which gave them just enough time to get more oil.
3. The Festival of Lights
Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days in remembrance of the miracle the Jewish citizens witnessed. The menorah used for this celebration has nine candles—one candle for each night of the miracle and one candle called a shamash, or “helper,” which is used to light the others. Hanukkah is often referred to as the Festival of Lights for this reason. The name can also be seen to refer to the fact that the Maccabees were able to bring to “light” suppressed Jewish practices and to restore the sacred temple after so many years of harsh oppression.
4. Let’s Celebrate!
Jewish families begin celebrating Hanukkah on the 25th day of Kislev, which occurs in late November to late December. On the first night, one candle on the right side is lit using the shamash. On the following seven nights, one more candle is lit, always with the “helper candle,” going from right to left. After the menorah is lit, families recite blessings and enjoy traditional foods fried in oil, such as potato latkes and a type of jelly doughnut called sufganiyot. Another recognized symbol of Hanukkah is the dreidel, which is a type of spinning top children use to play a game of chance where they can win chocolate coins. Small presents are also exchanged each night to remember God’s gifts to the Jews and to show appreciation for one another.