Updated for 2009
by: Grayson Leverenz
The Hanukkah Story
Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed Judaism and persecuted Jewish people that denied the Greek gods he worshiped when he rose to power around 175 BC. He even erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple in Jerusalem. After years of war, the Jewish people, led by Judah Macabee, defeated the monarchy, and reclaimed their Temple in 165 BC.
The rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem kicked off the festival of Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew. Legend has it that Judah and his brothers wanted to light the golden menorah for the rededication, and were able to find enough olive oil to burn for one day. By a miracle, the oil lasted eight days, exactly the amount of time it took to produce new oil and keep the menorah lit.
Hanukkah plays a major role in the lives of about 6 million Americans. Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, begins on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Jewish calendar. The 25th day occurs every year between late November and late December on the US Gregorian calendar. In 2009, Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 11th and lasts eight nights.
Today, Jewish-Americans light a candle on their menorahs for every night of Hanukkah to remind people of the eight-day miracle. Each candle or oil lamp is lit by a 9th candle that sits either higher or lower than the other candles in the menorah. The sole purpose of this extra candle is to light the Hanukkah candles. That way the eight candles are only lit to remember the Hanukkah story and the miracle.
Jewish children traditionally receive gelt, or money, during Hanukkah. In the US, children often receive gifts on one or every night of Hanukkah, very similar to Christian children receiving gifts on Christmas morning.
To celebrate your own Hanukkah here in the US:
Fried foods take center stage during Hanukkah, especially those fried in olive oil. Potato pancakes, or latkes in Yiddish, are very popular. Click here for a recipe.
Jewish children often play with a four-sided spinning top called a dreidel during Hanukkah. Click here for a virtual dreidel game.
You can find traditional Hanukkah music, complete with lyric sheets in Hebrew and English, here.
A Rugrats Chanukah [VHS]. A children’s cartoon that’s fun for the whole family. The network removed the link to watch it for free, but it’s worth renting or buying.
For more on Hanukkah, click here.