Hanukkah begins at sundown Wednesday and continues for eight days. The holiday recalls the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the military victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks in 165 B.C.
Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one candle the first night of the festival, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are burning in a special candleholder, a Hanukkiah, on the eighth and final night – there are actually nine candles burning; but trust me here on the details, it’s a Jewish thing.
The story of Hanukkah includes a spiritual twist, based on a Talmudic legend that details a miracle. When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, they found only one small jar of sacred oil to be used to rekindle the holy menorah. The jar contained oil for only one night, but miraculously burned for eight, until fresh oil could be produced. Some believe this story is the, um, gospel truth; others think it’s a bubbe meise.
For centuries, Hanukkah was a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, a time to recall the might of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. But in the 1920s in America, some Jewish parents started doing for their children what their Christian neighbors already were doing each Christmas. That link – the giving of gifts – continues to this day.
Those gifts and little songs, dreidels, latkes and the remembrance of the Maccabees and their struggle for religious freedom all manage to come together euphonically each year, especially when darkness hovers near.
The holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, reminds our community that we are an ancient people that have survived the persecution of tyrants for eons and even on the darkest nights, dawn is just moments beyond the horizon.