Hanukkah: the Jewish Festival of Lights

Each year, beginning on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar, believers celebrate the 8-day Festival of Lights. Kislev usually is in either November or December, and this year Hanukkah begins at sundown on December 22. The origin of this holy celebration is in Jerusalem of 164 B.C.

In 200 B.C. a Syrian king named Antiochus III had jurisdiction over Jerusalem. Under his rule, the large Jewish population in Judea were permitted to worship God in their traditional way. When his son Antiochus IV became king as his father’s heir, he demanded that those of the Hebrew faith worship the many Greek gods instead of the one true God. Rebellion followed, and events came to a head in 168 B.C. when Syrian soldiers killed multitudes of the Hebrew faithful and desecrated the Jerusalem Temple by sacrificing pigs and building an altar to Zeus inside the Temple. One of the outraged Jewish Temple priests had five sons, and the six of them lead a revolt against the forces of Antiochus IV. One of the sons, known to history as Judah Maccabee, became a leader of the guerrilla-style resistance and by 164 B.C. had ousted the Syrians from Jerusalem.

After this victory, those of the rebellion turned their emphasis to tearing down the altar to Zeus, rebuilding the altar to the one true God, and cleansing the area devoted to sacrifices. They also wanted to light the Temple menorah, but only had enough untainted olive oil to last one night. Through a miracle from God, the menorah candles continued to burn for 8 nights. It was decided to have an annual 8-day celebration to commemorate this miracle.

Modern traditions to celebrate Hanukkah (“dedication” in Hebrew) include:

  • Eating food made by frying in olive oil, such as potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled doughnuts (sufganiyot).
  • Playing with a four-sided top called a dreidel.
  • Reciting blessings while lighting candles in a nine-branched menorah (hanukkiah) for eight consecutive nights. The first night one candle is lit, the second night the one from the first night and another one, the third night the two from the first two nights and another one, etc. After the candles are lit each night, the hanukkiah is prominently displayed in a window.

May all readers enjoy this festive season and be receptive to miracles in our midst! For more information on Hanukkah, refer to this website: www.history.com/topics/holidays/hanukkah

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