Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration which honors the Holy Temple rededication (the 2nd Temple) within Jerusalem during the period when the Maccabean Revolt erupted in opposition to the Seleucid Empire. This holiday lasts for a period of 8 days and nights, beginning on Kislev 25th in the Hebrew calendar, which in the Gregorian calendar will typically fall between November and December. Jews sometimes refer to it as the Feast of Dedication.
Origin of Hanukkah
At one time the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt controlled Judea and this dominance lasted until about 200 BC when King Ptolemy V was defeated by Antiochus III during the Battle of Panium. In the aftermath, the Seleucid Empire took control of Judea and King Antiochus allowed the Jews to continue maintaining their customs.
However, once his son Antiochus IV took power he attacked Judea, overturning the policy of his father. The Second Jerusalem Temple was looted, its services discontinued and Judaism itself was outlawed. An altar for Zeus was instead constructed within the temple. These actions by Antiochus IV resulted in a massive revolt on the part of the Jews. A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his sons commanded the rebellion. By 165 BC the revolt against the Seleucid had succeeded and the temple was freed and rededicated. The festival of Hanukkah was established to commemorate this event.
Rituals and Practices of Hanukkah
Hanukkah consists of a collection of rituals which are carried out each day for the duration of the event, many of which are based on the family and others which are more communal. Special additions are made for the prayer service which occurs daily and a section is combined with blessings after meals. Hanukkah is distinct from the Sabbath and does not have the obligations which are associated with it. For instance, Jews may perform work as they usually do, but must return home early so that the lights can be kindled by dusk.
Jewish children are also expected to attend school during Hanukkah, with the exception of Israel where schools may be closed beginning on the second day. It is customary for Jewish families to exchange gifts during the evenings, often games or books. Fried foods are also consumed heavily during Hanukkah, particularly potato pancakes and “sufganiyot,” doughnuts which are references to the necessity of oil for the celebration of this holiday. Many Jews will also consume dairy foods.
The most important practice during Hanukkah is the kindling of lights. This is done every night for the duration of the eight days. Either a candle or any light which is oil based will be lit. Each night an additional light will be added, along with a shamash, or extra light that is placed in a specific location and elevated above the others or to the side of them. Jews use both oil lamps and traditional candles, but they may also utilize electric lights in places where open flames are not allowed, such as within hospitals. Many Jews have a candelabrum within their home that can be used for lighting.