Posted on: January 22, 2020 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Pam Wilinski


The 8 day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah (Chanukah) commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Hanukkah, dedication in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games, and gifts.

Inspired by events during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history Hannukah recalls the overthrow of  200 the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He outlawed the Jewish religion in 200 BCE, and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 BCE, his soldiers descended on Jerusalem, slaughtering thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple, erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs inside.

Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Mattathias died in 166 BCE, his son Judah took the helm; within two years, the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying heavily on guerilla warfare tactics. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah – the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night.

According to the Talmud, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who rededicated the Temple witnessed a miracle. Even though there was only enough olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This wondrous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.

Jewish scholars have also suggested that the first Hanukkah may have been a belated celebration of Sukkot, which the Jews had not had the chance to observe during the Maccabean Revolt. One of the Jewish religion’s most important holidays, Sukkot consists of seven days of feasting, prayer and festivities. 

The Hanukkah celebration revolves around the kindling of a nine-branched menorah, the hanukkiah. On each night, another candle is added after sundown. The ninth candle, called the Shamash (“helper”), is used to light the others. Jews typically recite blessings during this ritual and display the menorah prominently in a window to remind others of the miracle that inspired the holiday.

Traditional Hebrew foods are fried in oil. Potato pancakes (latkes) and jam-filled donuts (sufganiyot) are particularly popular in many Jewish households. Other Hanukkah customs include playing with four-sided spinning tops called dreidels and exchanging gifts. On each side of the dreidel is a Hebrew letter, which forms the initials of the words in the phrase nes gadol haya sham, meaning “a great miracle happened there.” Children receive presents and gifts of money (gelt), usually in the form of chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil.

In recent decades, and particularly in North America, Hanukkah has exploded into a major commercial phenomenon, because oof is proximity to Christmas. In countries where Christmas rituals are widespread, some echoes of those rituals appear in Hanukkah celebrations. Some families, for example, exchange gifts or decorate their homes. The word Hanukkah in Hebrew also means “education,” and rabbis and Jewish educators try to instill in their congregants and students the notion that the holiday celebrates Jewish strengths, perseverance, and continuity. From a religious perspective, however, it remains a relatively minor holiday that places no restrictions on working, attending school or other activities.

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