This year’s Hannukah begins on the evening of Tuesday, December 16th and ends on the evening of Wednesday, December 24th. There have been Hannukahs celebrated throughout the world for arguably more than 2100 years. But how did the holiday originally get started?
Hannukah is celebrated as a commemoration of the Maccabean War that took place around 165 B.C. At the time, Antiochus IV had outlawed the practice of Judaism, which led to a rebellion by a group of Jews. There are references to Hannukah celebrations occurring in ancient texts. Josephus has a reference to Hannukah written about 200 years after the war, and the Mishna mentions the Hannukah lamps being lit some 350 years after the war.
The Jewish rebellion featured thousands of Jews fighting for their right to practice their faith. Against all odds, the Jewish rebels defeated the Syrians (who were under Greek control) in the war, which allowed them to restore the ancient temple in Jerusalem that had been sacked and desecrated by Greek forces.
A major part of the celebration of Hannukah is the tradition of the lamp, being lit for eight days (which is why a menorah has eight candles). Once the Jews were victorious in their war, they relit the menorah in the temple, they realized that they only had enough olive oil to keep the candles burning for a day, and that it would take at least eight days to make more. The menorah miraculously stayed lit for that entire eight day period, during which time the Jews were able to prepare more oil and bring it to the temple. This showed the Jewish people that God was still present in the temple, even after its desecration by the Jews.
Therefore, Hannukah is seen as a celebration of the Jews’ miraculous victory in the Maccabean War, but also as a recognition of God’s presence in our lives, even in our darkest hours.
We hope that you have a blessed Hannukah this year!