Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Hanukkah, also spelled Ḥanukka, Chanukah, or Chanukkah, also called Feast of Dedication, Festival of Lights, or Feast of the Maccabees. It is a Jewish festival that begins on Kislev 25, mostly, in December, according to the Gregorian calendar, and is celebrated for eight days. There is a famous “oil story” about the Hanukkah and that is the reason the festival is celebrated for eight days.
What is the significance of the celebration of Hanukkah?
Hanukkah celebrates the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C. The event occurred when Jews rose up against Greek-Syrian rulers in the Maccabean Revolt and drove them out of Jerusalem, according to the History Channel.
To mark their victory, Jews wanted to reclaim the temple and light its menorah, but only found enough pure olive oil for one day, according to Chabad.org. That one-day supply lasted eight and is considered a miracle in Jewish faith.
Although the traditional practice of lighting candles at Hanukkah was not established in the books of the Maccabees, the custom most likely started relatively early. The practice is enshrined in the Talmud, which describes the miracle of the oil in the Temple. According to the Talmud, when Judas Maccabeus entered the Temple, he found only a small jar of oil that had not been defiled by Antiochus.
The jar contained only enough oil to burn for one day, but miraculously the oil burned for eight days until new consecrated oil could be found, establishing the precedent that the festival should last eight days. The early date for this story or at least the practice of lighting eight candles is confirmed by the debate of the 1st-century-CE scholars Hillel and Shammai.
Is the Candle Story really true?
As per some historians, the story of the oil lasting eight days goes back to ancient rabbis, who seemed to have made up the story while chatting about lighting candles during the holiday. Some staunchly believe the oil story, though others are more inclined to focus on the messages the holiday teaches. Every religion has some myths associated with it and the “oil story” is probably one of the myths about the Hanukkah. Nevertheless, whether it is true or not, we should focus more on the message and lesson that it provides and enjoy the celebration with gifts, of course.
What happens during Hanukkah?
The celebration of Hanukkah includes a variety of religious and nonreligious customs, Jews light one candle each evening on a nine-branched menorah. The ninth candle, known as the shamash, ("helper" or "attendant"), is used to light the other eight. Olive oil was traditionally used for lighting the menorah, but it was replaced by candles, which are inserted in the menorah incrementally each night of the festival from right to left but are lit from left to right. The lit menorahs are displayed prominently, often in windows.
Apart from these religious belief and customs, many non-religious things are also done during the festival of Hanukkah. Playing with tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts are other Hanukkah traditions to celebrate the holiday. In addition to these, gelt, a chocolate coins adults give to children during Hanukkah. It is a symbol of the money that Jewish parents would give their children instead of gifts; "gelt" means money in Yiddish.
Why are people talking about Hanukkah?
The Hanukkah is not something immensely popular or an important festivals among the Jews, at least not in the traditional religious sense. It's debatable whether it was a direct response to Christmas or an effort to encourage young people to make time for synagogue, reports Vox. The Atlantic notes that the story of Hanukkah isn't even in the Torah, the Jewish Bible. For comparison's sake: This is the same bible that included my Torah portion, Bamidbar, which was just about counting tribes around a sacred tabernacle.