Sundown last night kicked off the 8-day Hebrew holiday known as Hanukkah. Because it usually falls in December and involves the giving of presents to children, there has been an unfortunate tendency to think of it as “Jewish Christmas.”
Also known as the “festival of lights” or the “feast of dedication,” Hannukah celebrates the Maccabean revolt against forcible Hellenization of Israel. Isrealites of the second century BC were willing to be ruled by Greeks, but they weren’t willing to become Greeks by giving up their religion and culture. For instance, their temple to the Jewish God was to be turned instead into an altar to Zeus.
And so, under the leadership of Judas “the hammer” Maccabeaus, they fought back with righteous fury. As this men’s singing group which started at New York’s Yeshiva University puts it: “The war went on and on and on / until the mighty Greeks were gone!”
According to the Talmud, to celebrate their victory the Israelites lit a special kind of candelabra called a menorah in the temple. After all the fighting, they could only find enough oil to last a single day, but the lights refused to go out. They miraculously burned on for eight days.
That’s how the eight crazy days and nights of Hanukkah were born.