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Learn More About Hanukkah

Adapted from www.myjewishlearning.com

Why Do We Celebrate?

Hanukkah, or the Festival of Rededication, celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its defilement by the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE. Although it is a late addition to the Jewish liturgical calendar, the eight-day festival of Hanukkah has become a beloved and joyous holiday. It is also known as the Festival of Lights and takes place in December, at the time of year when the days are shortest in the northern hemisphere.


Beginning in 167 BCE, the Jews of Judea rose up in revolt against the oppression of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid Empire. The military leader of the first phase of the revolt was Judah the Maccabee, the eldest son of the priest Mattityahu (Mattathias). In the autumn of 164, Judah and his followers were able to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been turned into a pagan shrine. They cleansed and rededicated it. This event was observed in an eight-day celebration. Rabbinic tradition ascribes the length of the festival to a miraculous bottle of oil that burned for eight days, when it was expected to last for only one.
Celebrating Hanukkah at Home

Much of the activity of Hanukkah takes place at home. Central to the holiday is the lighting of the hanukkiah, a nine-branched candelabrum to which one candle is added on each day of the holiday until it is ablaze with light on the eighth day. In commemoration of the legendary bottle of oil, it is traditional to eat foods fried in oil. The most familiar Hanukkah foods are the European (Ashkenazi) potato pancakes, or latkes, and the Israeli favorite, jelly donuts, or sufganiyot.
Celebrating Hanukkah in the Community

Although not mentioned in the Bible, Hanukkah has become one of the most beloved of Jewish holidays. Jewish communities around the world view Hanukkah as a celebration of the spiritual survival of Judaism and the victory of Judaic values over a complete, and in many cases enforced, assimilation. Celebrating Hanukkah enhances self-awareness of Jewish adults and provides an opportunity for joyous, fun Jewish festivity for children. Jews will often gather for communal celebrations and public candle lighting. At such celebrations, Hanukkah songs are sung and traditional games such as spinning tops, or dreidel, are played.

Theology and Themes

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates liberation from oppression, freedom of worship and religion, and the ability to find light and hope in the darkest of times.