The Story of Hanukkah
The Festival of Lights, also known as Hanukkah from the Hebrew word for “dedication” is an eight-day Jewish holiday which marks the re-dedication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem (Second Temple) after its desecration by the forces of the King of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and commemorates the “miracle of the oil”. According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days during which time they pressed and consecrated fresh olive oil.
According to the first century Jewish historian Josephus, Judas Maccabbeus ordered lavish yearly eight-day festivities after re-dedicating the Temple. In his book, Jewish Antiquities Book XII, he states, “they [Israelites] were so very glad at the revival of their customs, when, after a long time of intermission, they unexpectedly had regained the freedom of their worship, that they made it a law for their posterity, that they should keep a festival, on account of the restoration of their temple worship, for eight days.”
The festival is observed by lighting candles on a special candelabrum, the nine-branched Menorah or Hanukiah, on each night of the holiday. The 9th candle space is usually higher than the others and is lit on every night. Each night an additional candle is lit, progressing to eight on the final night. Celebrations also include singing special songs and reciting Hallel prayer (Psalms 113-118). This year the Festival of Lights begins the evening of December 24th and ends the evening of Sunday, January 1st.
Listen to an audio dramatization of the Miracle of the Maccabees and the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple on Chabad.org here.