Hanukkah has been celebrating centuries of Jewish history since the time of the Maccabees, but when was the first Hanukkah? The answer to this question varies depending on the source, but is generally agreed upon to be somewhere during the 2nd century BCE.
Hanukkah is an eight-day Jewish holiday that celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which had been desecrated by the Greek-Syrian empire. The festival is observed by lighting the Hanukkah menorah, or candle holder, each night for eight nights, one per day. The Talmud explains the origin of the holiday in two separate stories as to why the eight-day festival was celebrated.
Origin Story Number One: Miracle of the Oil
According to this story, after the Maccabees had liberated the temple, they were unable to find enough pure oil to keep the everlasting flame burning for more than one day. Only one small jug of pure oil was found, but miraculously, it lasted for eight days. To give thanks for this miracle, the people of Jerusalem established Hanukkah as an eight-day holiday.
Origin Story Number Two: Victory of the Jews
In this story, the eight-day celebration was not established to honor the miracle of the oil, but to commemorate the victory of the Jews over the Syrian-Greeks. This story claims that the Jews celebrated their win by re-entering the temple and kindling lights for eight days.
It is generally agreed upon that Hanukkah was first celebrated sometime during the 2nd century BCE. Although the exact date is not known, historians place the beginning of the holiday around 167 B.C.E., which is when the Maccabees were believed to have rededicated the temple in Jerusalem.
From its establishment, Hanukkah has been celebrated with the lighting of the Menorah, as well as with prayers, special foods, and festive games such as dreidel. The origins of the festival are not clearly known, but it is believed to have been first celebrated during the second century BCE. Today, it serves as an important part of Jewish culture and a reminder of the victory of freedom over oppression.
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