Hanukkah, meaning “dedication,” is an eight-day wintertime celebration during which Jews commemorate a miracle that occurred more than 2,000 years ago.
At that time, Syrian-Greek leaders had banned the practice of Judaism and subsequently destroyed the Jews’ temples. A group of 40 Jews known as the Maccabees decided to rebel and rose up to defeat a Syrian army of 40,000. After the dust settled, the Jews rushed to rededicate their ruined temple in Jerusalem by lighting a menorah, or candelabrum. In the vast destruction, however, they found only enough oil to last one day. The miracle of Hanukkah is that the oil burned brightly not for one night, but eight full days—exactly the length of time necessary to produce more oil. Hanukkah primarily celebrates the miracle of the burning oil, not the act of war.
During this Festival of Lights, families light the menorah, recite blessings and enjoy symbolic games like dreidel (a spinning top) and foods like latkes (potato pancakes) or sufganiyah (jelly-filled donuts).
Although gifts are often exchanged, Hanukkah is not “the Jewish Christmas.” It’s also not the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover are among the more significant Jewish holidays.
Today Hanukkah is a reminder that it’s up to each of us to be a light in the darkness, and even a little light can go a long way.