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Hanukkah Celebration

Maccabean Victory over the Antioches

The Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had invaded Judea trying to Hellanize the Jews. Mattias and Judas Maccabeus (his son), led a group of Jews fighting to defend their religious beliefs against the Antioches. After a grueling three-year struggle, the Maccabees were victorious but found their temple had been desecrated. Judas ordered the cleansing and restoration of the Temple. Once it was purified, a new altar was installed and dedicated on 25 Kislev 164 BCE.

Kislev is the ninth month on the Hebrew calendar and generally falls during November and December of the Gregorian calendar which is used in most parts of the world. The Gregorian calendar was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII as a replacement for the Julian calendar in 1582.

Festival of Lights

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The Lighting of the Menorah

The custom of lighting the candles during Hannukah most likely began shortly after the early celebrations. The story of the miracle of the oil is enshrined in the Talmud, Shabbat 21b. According to this story, Judas entered the Temple and found that only a small jar of oil had not been defiled by the Antioches. It is said that although there was only enough oil to burn for one day, the oil lasted for eight and so Judas proclaimed that the dedication would be celebrated every year for eight nights beginning on 25 Kislev.

Modern Hannukah Celebrations

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Religious and Non-Religious Customs

The custom of lighting candles each night of Hannukah has continued throughout history into the modern celebrations. The menorah is the most important tradition of the holiday but like many other holidays, some non-religious traditions are also customary. These traditions include festive feasts, songs, games, and giving gifts to children. Many fried treats are eaten during Hannukah in memory of the miracle of the oil, including latkes (potato pancakes), sufganiyot (donuts), and rugelach (a sweet, flaky pastry). Children receive small gifts and sometimes money or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. One game that is customarily played by children is the dreidl, a four-sided top with each side containing a Hebrew letter signifying "a great miracle happened there" (which has been changed in modern times to signify "a great miracle happened here"). Another festive tradition that happens in Israel to start the Hannukah holiday is the annual torch relay from Modi'in to the Western Wall (last remnants of the Temple) in Jerusalem. At the wall, the torch is finally handed to the Chief Rabbi who lights the first candle of the giant menorah.

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Happy Hannukah

The joyous celebration will begin at sundown on Sunday, December 18th with the lighting of the first candle. Jews all across the globe will be celebrating from the 18th to Monday, December 26th.

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Happy Hannukah to all of you who celebrate this miraculous holiday and to those of you who do not. The world can always use more reasons to celebrate, especially in times like these when so many of us are struggling.

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