Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is an important Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. First celebrated thousands of years ago, Hanukkah is a major part of Jewish heritage and is still celebrated today by Jews around the world. But when was this first celebrated?
The exact origin of Hanukkah is debated among scholars, however, it is known that the first Hanukkah celebration took place more than 2200 years ago, in the year 164 BCE. It was around this time that Jews in the Land of Israel had to fight for their freedom from the Greek-Syrian empire led by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his forces.
The Maccabean Revolt
In 167 BCE, the Greeks had outlawed the practice of Judaism and had made idolatry the official religion. Jews were forced to abandon their temples and practice their faith in secret. Led by a family of priestly warriors called the Maccabees, the Jews rose up in revolt against the Greeks in 166 BCE. After a long and brutal battle, the Jews were successful in defeating the Greeks and regaining their freedom.
Rededication of The Temple of Jerusalem
Following this, the Jewish leaders rededicated the Temple of Jerusalem to praise God for their victory. According to the Talmud, a written record of Jewish religious, legal, and cultural life, a single cruse of sacred olive oil that was meant to light the menorah (lamp) in the temple miraculously lasted for eight days, although it should have only lasted one. As an annual reminder of this miracle, the Jewish people decided to celebrate a festival for eight nights, lighting up the menorah each night. This is why Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights.
The Traditional Hanukkah Customs
During a Hanukkah celebration, the first night’s candle is lit in remembrance of the miracle that occurred more than two millenia ago. On each succeeding night an additional candle is lit, until a grand total of eight candles are lit on the menorah. It is also customary to exchange gifts, play games with a spinning top called a dreidel, and eat traditional foods such as potato latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts).
Hanukkah is still celebrated to this day, and each year families gather together to celebrate their freedom and the miracle of the oil. It is a time of joy, happiness, gift-giving, and most importantly, commemorating the faithfulness of God and the Jewish people.
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Last update 2023-11-27. Price and product availability may change.