The eight-day Jewish celebration of Hanuukah (or the Festival of Lights) commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem where, according to legend, the Jews rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors during the Maccabean Revolt in the second century BCE. After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his vast empire was divided between his generals, with Seleucus I getting territory that encompassed Israel all the way to India.
At first the Seleucid kings allowed the Jews to practice their own religion. But then in a total reversal of policy Antiochus IV Epiphanes outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered all the Jews to worship Greek gods. When they refused, in 168 BCE, he descended on Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the Jewish holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
In the wake of this desecration, a large-scale rebellion broke out against the Seleucid monarchy. The rebellion was led by Jewish priest Mattahias and his five sons. When he died, his son Judah Maccabee took command of the rebellion and successfully drove the Syrians out of Jerusalem. Judah called for his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah, the golden candelabrum whose seven branches represent knowledge and creation.
And this brings us to the miracle which Hanuukah celebrates. According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the others who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to have been a miracle: There was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, but the flames kept flickering for eight nights, giving those rededicating the Temple time to find a fresh supply of oil.
Hanukkah is rich in traditions.
The first revolves around lighting the nine-branched menorah. On each of the holiday’s eight nights, another candle is added to the menorah after sundown. The ninth candle is called the shamash (the helper) and is used to light the others. It is typical to recite blessings during the ritual and to display the menorah prominently in a window to remind others of the miracle that inspired the holiday. Another tradition revolves around food fried in oil. Potato pancakes known as latkes and jam-filled donuts known as sufhaniyot are eaten in many Jewish homes. Though not fried, a food item that’s steeped in tradition is gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. The traditions continue in the playing if games, specifically the game of Dreidel with a four-sided spinning top. And of course, there is gift giving, where most families exchange small, sentimental gifts, like books, games, and even food items, that harken the holiday’s true meaning and grass roots. Lastly, and this is just as important as everything else, the official colors of Hanukkah are blue and white, so wrapping paper and decorations adorning packages and houses will naturally be a bright festivity of blue and white.
From all of us at THE DARK SIRE to all of our Jewish readers, “Hanukkah Sameach!”
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We know that each family has their own unique traditions for Hanukkah. If you celebrate, let us celebrate with you by sharing (pictures are encouraged!) your traditions with us. We’d love to celebrate with you!
If you have a horror and gothic-loving reader you’d like to shop for, be sure to visit the TDS Holiday Store for all your gift needs. We recommend the Holiday Care Box – a present that gives a little of everything, small but personal.