The History of Hanukkah

image of jewish holiday Hanukkah background with menorah (traditional candelabra) and burning candles

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image of jewish holiday Hanukkah background with menorah (traditional candelabra) and burning candles

Colleen Noah, Writer

Many refer to December as Christmas season, but it is most commonly referred to as the holiday season because Christmas isn’t the only holiday celebrated in December. Another holiday celebrated in December is the Jewish holiday: Hanukkah. Hanukkah, Hebrew for “dedication” is celebrated every December by those of Jewish decent or faith. Much like Christmas, it has been very commercialized in America, but there is more to Hanukkah than many people think.

It is only coincidence that Hanukkah falls near Christmas day, the Hebrew calendar has Hanukkah fall on the 25th of Kislev, which is the equivalent to the November/December time frame of the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah celebrates when the Jewish people had successfully risen up to Antiochus IV Epiphanes who outlawed the practice of Judaism when he came into power. In 168 B.C., Antiochus IV had sent his army to massacre many of the Jewish people in Jerusalem, the holy city, and desecrate their Holy Second Temple by converting it into a polytheistic church and by offering animal sacrifices.

After what had happened to the temple and the Jewish people, a Jewish man named Mattathias and his sons decided it was enough. They led a rebellion, Mattathias died fighting, but his son, Judah Maccabee, was able to take charge and successfully ran the Syrians out of Jerusalem and rightfully claimed the Second Temple back. After the Second Temple was cleansed, they lit the Menorah, the seven candles used in the Second Temple.

A miracle was said to be witnessed by the Jewish people at the Second Temple. After the menorah was lit, the oil was only able to keep it lit for one whole day, but it was able to stay lit for eight full days without needing to be replaced. This miracle was the reason for the tradition that Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days, this is also the reason why families use a menorah. The menorah was only seven branches, representing creation and knowledge, but outside the temple, it is tradition to use an eight candle menorah.

The way Hanukkah is celebrated today is through traditional Jewish foods, games, prayer, and gifts. Each night of Hanukkah, after sundown, one candle is added to the Menorah so on the eighth day, all eight candles are lit. The Shamash, the helper candle, is the ninth candle which lights all the others. During the candle lightings, families usually pray and then set the menorah in the window to remind others of the celebration. Other traditions include eating Jewish dishes that are cooked in oil, giving gifts, and playing games. The most well-known game played on Hanukkah uses the dreidel.

Hanukkah, from a religious stand point, is said to be a minor holiday, for instance it wouldn’t close school or make anyone take off work. But with Hanukkah being close to Christmas, it has since been commercialized in America. Regardless of how Hanukkah is celebrated today, it still holds the same meaning and historical significance.



Works Cited Editors. “Hanukkah.” HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, 27 Oct. 2009, Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.

“Menorah 9 VS 7 Branches.” World of Judaica, JWG Judaica and Dead Sea Cosmetics, 18 July 2017, Accessed 5 Dec. 2019.