Hanukkah: Its origin and what it means

Eight days in December, or occasionally late November and early December, make up the Jewish festival of Hanukkah.

This most recently established Jewish holidays differs from the other Jewish festivals in that it is based more solidly on recorded history. It celebrates the liberation of the Jews from a Greco-Syrian king in 165 BCE (before the common, or Christian, era).

Because it involves lights, both those of candles and the eternal light of a synagogue, Hanukkah is known as the Festival of Lights. A special candelabrum, differing from the one used for the Sabbath by holding up to nine candles, is used in Jewish homes for lighting one candle the first evening, two the second, and so on until eight candles besides the one in the center, are lit. The center candle, or Shamus (attendant), is used to light the other candles.

Although it is not equivalent to Christmas, Hanukkah is a time in which many Jews exchange gifts.

Jews in ancient times lived in several empires, some of which treated them well, but King Antiochus of Syria was the cruelest. Seeking to unify the peoples in his kingdom against Rome and Egypt, he outlawed Jewish religious practices and sent his army to destroy the Temple.

The Jews, led by Judah Maccabee, raised a volunteer army that saved the Temple and their religious practices.

Because of the re-dedication of the Temple, the holiday was named Hanukkah, the Hebrew word for re-dedication.

Why eight days? The usually accepted explanation is that after the Greeks entered the temple, they defiled all the ceremonial oils except for the oil in one cruse, which the priests saved. That amount of oil was fuel for only one day, the story goes, and it would take eight days to find enough oil to maintain the lamps. By a miracle, however, the oil in that cruse lasted eight days.

That is not the only explanation. There is an adage in the Jewish faith: Get two Jews together and you will have an argument; get three Jews together and you will have a revolution.

Disagreements among Jews include the reason for the eight days. It seems that before the miracle explanation appeared, the eight-day length was to conform to the length of another Jewish holiday.

Jewish holidays begin at sundown and are scheduled according to a lunar calendar, so the days of Hanukkah this year will start the night of Dec. 18 and end the night of Dec. 26.

(Repurposed from 2021 Holiday Guide)