What is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah is a story about miracles.
Hanukkah is a story about standing up for what you believe.
Hanukkah is a story about the triumph of light over darkness.
Hanukkah is an eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev. This is usually in our month of December. In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.”What does dedication have to do with this holiday?
Hanukkah is the celebration of the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E. In 168 B.C.E., the Jewish Temple was taken over by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This greatly upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back because they or their families would be punished.
Then in 167 B.C.E., Antiochus (the Syrian-Greek emperor), made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.
This was NOT okay with the Jewish people.
Greek soldiers forced the Jewish villagers to gather together. They told them to bow down to an idol, then eat the flesh of a pig. Both of these things are strictly are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a High Priest, to bow down to the idol. Mattathias refused. Another villager stepped forward and offered to bow down instead of Mattathias. Mattathias became
furious and he drew his sword and killed the villager. He then turned on the Greek officer and killed him, too. His five sons Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them.
Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains.
(Print this coloring sheet here.)
Other Jews wishing to help in the fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they defeated the Greeks and were able to get their land back from them. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans.
Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. Since the Temple had been used for the
worship of foreign gods and also for sacrificing pigs, it had been spiritually defiled. This means it wasn’t ready to be used by the Jewish people. Jewish troops wanted to purify the Temple by burning special oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days. They were upset when they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and, to their surprise, the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days.
This is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkiyah for eight days. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.
This re-dedication of the Temple is the basis of the holiday of Hanukkah.
For more about Hanukkah, click here.
For a Hanukkah coloring book, click here.