Learn the history of Hanukkah
The word Hanukkah is derived from a Hebrew word meaning "dedication". It is a Festival of Lights celebrated in order to commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus of Syria some twenty-one centuries ago. Thus it is the eight day and night long celebration, starting on the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar).
History of Hanukkah:
According to the Hebrew Bible, it is believed, under the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanies, the Syrian Greeks used to forcefully impose their Hellenistic culture over the Jews. By the 167 B.C.E, Antiochus further intensified his campaign by defiling the Temple in Jerusalem and banning Jewish practices. Unable to bear this torment further, the Maccabees, a small group of Jewish fighters set out to liberate the land of Israel from the clutches of the Syrian Greeks. Headed by Matthias and his five sons, including Judah Maccabee, they waged a three-year campaign that culminated in the cleaning and the rededication of the Temple. Thus after the Maccabees’ stood victorious, the Jews rededicated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and, once again, were able to worship freely. Although Hanukkah is about celebrating the military victory, yet the symbols associated with this festival, i.e. the Hanukkah menorah, or hanukkiah — reminds us of the miracle of the oil. As the legend goes, it is said after the rededication of the Temple the Jews were about to lighten a lamp. To your disappointment they noticed that they are left with little amount oil which will fire the eternal lamp only for a day. But to their surprise, a miracle occurred, and the oil lasted for eight days and nights until more oil could be brought from afar. Thus this whole event is an explanation enough as to why this festival is named as Hanukkah and what the reasons behind this festival being referred to as the Festival of Lights. In order to maintain the charm of this particular festival, nine candles are lighted on the Hanukkah Menorah, one candle dedicated to respective nights and the remaining one is dedicated to all the nights of celebration. The candles are lighted in a systematic order. For instance, one candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night and so on, until all eight candles are lit on the eighth night.
There’s also a lesser known story which is associated with the celebration of this particular festival. According to the story from the Apocrypha, it is believed Judith a beautiful widow, plied her enemy Assyrian General Holofernes with cheese and wine until he fell into a drunken stupor. Judith then beheaded the General in his sleep. Petrified by this macabre, the soldiers, those accompanied the General, also fled from the spot, thus saving her people from the Assyrian rule. In mark of remembrance, a candle is lit each of the eight days of Hanukkah. Children receive gifts of gelt (in remembrance of the coins minted by the new independent Maccabee state) or money and they play games of dreidel (a spinning four-sided top). The tradition of receiving gifts on each of the eight days of Hanukkah is fairly recent. As Christians exchange gifts at Christmas, Jews have come to exchange gifts other than coins at Hanukkah, which comes at around the same time of the year.