Chanukah, or Hanukkah, is a Jewish festival celebrated for eight days and nights, beginning on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Although Chanukah may be a widely known holiday, most people not of the Jewish faith are unfamiliar with its historical origin and meaning.
According to the Talmud, more than two thousand years ago the Jews of Israel were ruled by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the king of Syria. Antiochus forced the Jews to worship pagan gods and outlawed Judaism and any practice of its rituals.
In 168 B.C., as the Jews continued to be persecuted, Antiochus took hold of their holy temple and dedicated it to the Greek god Zeus. Soon an uprising began against the king and after three years of fighting, the Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, defeated the Greeks.
Macabee and the Jews made their way to the temple to find it partially destroyed. They worked to repair it and then decided to rededicate the temple by lighting the menorah, a seven branched candelabrum that symbolizes the seven days of creation. When the people went to light it they found only enough oil to keep it burning for one day. Then a miracle occurred and the menorah stayed alight for eight days and nights.
“This was a sign of God’s presence,” said Chris Laing, an Episcopal and Lutheran chaplain at the student ministry center.
Although Laing is not Jewish, he worked for a non-profit called, “World of Difference” where he saw the traditions of Chanukah celebrated by Jewish members of the organization.
“It’s a great story of rebelling against oppression. A religious holiday like this can really bring people together,” Laing said.
Today the word “Chanukah” means dedication in reference to this event and to commemorate this happening, Jews celebrate Chanukah for eight days and nights, lighting one candle every evening.
Chanukah, also called “The Festival of Lights,” is comprised of many other traditions. Children receive gifts every evening, which is usually money, called gelt. There are many traditional foods like jelly doughnuts and potato pancakes, called latkes. People also take part in singing songs about the history of Chanukah and play the dreidel, a spinning toy used to play games, to celebrate the holiday.
Laing said, “Anyway to celebrate with lights this time of year is great.” This year’s festival of lights will begin the evening of the 19th of December on the Gregorian calendar.