Dating back two centuries before the beginning of Christianity, Hanukkah celebrates one of the greatest miracles in Jewish history. It is as important to the Judaism as Christmas is to Christianity.
Hanukkah reminds Jews of a time over 2500 years ago when the Syrian king, Antiochus, tried to make the Jewish people worship Greek gods. The king had a statue of himself erected in the Jewish Holy Temple and ordered the worshippers to bow down before him. However, the Ten Commandments forbid Jews to worship statues or idols, and so they refused to obey him.
A man called Judah Maccabees led a small group of troops against the Greek soldiers. It took them three years to recapture Jerusalem from the Syrians, and much longer to repair the Holy Temple that had been destroyed in the battle.
Once the Jews had repaired the Holy Temple, they rededicated it to God by lighting a Menorah (an eight stemmed lamp which was a symbol of God’s presence). Only one small jar of oil was found to light the Menorah, which was just enough for a single day, but miraculously the lamp stayed alight for eight days. This is known as the miracle of the purified oil.
Today Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one candle on the Menorah each day, starting from the left and moving to the right. An ancient Hanukkah song called ‘Hanerot Hallalu’, is recited or sang while lighting the candles.
Games are often played at Hanukkah, and special food such as latkes (potato pancakes), and sufganiot (jelly donuts), are eaten. It has become fashionable for presents to be exchanged to commemorate the miracle of the Festival of Lights, including money and small chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. These traditionally given financial gifts are known as Hanukkah gelt.