The most outspoken, in-your-face holiday during the holiday season is undoubtedly Christmas. Although Christmas is the most popular of the winter holidays, it is most definitely not the only one. What about the other holidays celebrated by different cultures during this season like Kwanzaa or Hanukkah?
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem during the second century B.C.E. According to legend, the Jews has risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt and won the temple back, thus rededicating it to the Jewish people.
The events that inspired this interesting holiday took place during a particularly turbulent time through Jewish history. Around 200 B.C.E., Judea, otherwise known as the Land of Israel, came under the power of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria. Antiochus III allowed the Jews who lived their previously to continue practicing Judaism.
Once Antiochus III died, his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent. Antiochus IV outlawed the Jewish religion in Jerusalem and ordered the Jews to worship the Greek gods. In 168 B.C.E., Antiochus IV ordered his soldiers to descend upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people as well as desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple. The soldiers erected an altar to Zeus where they sacrificing pigs within the sacred walls of the temple.
This desecration began the Maccabean Revolt, originally led by the Jewsih priest Mattathias and his five sons. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C.E., one of his sons Judah, also known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm of the war. Within two years, the Jews has successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem. Judah called upon his followers to lead a cleansing of the sacred Second Temple by rebuilding its altar and lighting its menorah.
According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s central and most respected texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. There was only enough olive oil remaining to light the menorah and keep the candles burning for a single day. The flames ended up burning for eight continuous days and nights, leaving the Jews time to find a fresh supply of oil. This miracle lead to the proclaimed yearly Jewish holiday that we today know as Hanukkah.
Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. To celebrate, Jewish people will light a new candle every night until filling the menorah, reciting blessings whilst doing so as a reminder of the blessing that influenced the holiday. The ninth candle, called the shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others.
Another tradition that many have is eating foods, like potato pancakes, which are fried in oil and creating dreidels.