History and Celebrations of Hanukkah

This article was originally published on December 14, 2020.

Hanukkah is one of the most commonly celebrated holidays in December, however, not many people know how it is celebrated. People who believe in Judaism make up 2.3% of the world population. That means that about 161,000,000 people are celebrating Hanukkah this week, which means someone you know is most likely celebrating Hanukkah in your school or workplace! To learn more, keep reading!

The History of Hanukkah

Judea (the Land of Israel) went under the rule of Antiochus III, the Seleucid King of Syria, about 200 BCE, who permitted the practice of Judaism. The Jewish religion was outlawed by his uncle, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and he forced the Jewish people to worship the Greek Gods. His troops descended upon Jerusalem in 168 BCE, killing thousands of civilians and desecrating the holiest Second Temple of the city by erecting Zeus’ altar. A great revolt against Antiochus and the Seleucid empire broke out, led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons. When Matthathias died in 166 BCE, his son Judah took the helm, and the Syrians were successfully forced out of Jerusalem by the Jewish people within two years. His followers were called by Judah to cleanse the Second Temple, restore its altar, and light its menorah. Judah and the other Jewish people who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple saw what they believed was a miracle, according to the Talmud, one of the most important texts of Judaism. While there was only ample untainted olive oil to hold the candles of the menorah burning for a single day for eight nights the flames continued to flicker, giving them time to find a fresh supply. The Jewish sages were inspired by this wondrous occurrence to proclaim an annual eight-day festival.

How is Hanukkah Celebrated?

Hanukkah is an 8-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev and usually falls in November or December. The holiday, sometimes called the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by lighting the menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts.

Lighting the Menorah

A menorah is a nine-branched lamp or candelabra and is one of the main aspects of Hanukkah. Each of the branches represents each day of the celebration, however the ninth branch called the shamash (helper), is used to light the others. Jewish people typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah prominently in a window as a reminder to others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.

Traditional Foods

Most traditional Hanukkah foods are normally fried in oil to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. Latkes, or potato pancakes, composed of fried shredded potatoes, is one of the many traditional foods. To learn how to make it, click here.

Another traditional Hanukkah food is Sufganiyot or jam-filled pancakes. To learn how to make it, click here.

Along with many other traditional and tasty foods!