Hanukkah is a holiday celebrated around the world by Jewish people. Also called the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. The Hebrew calendar is different from the Roman calendar (there are anywhere from 353-385 days in a Hebrew year)—that’s why the date appears to change each year.
Long ago, in the land of Judea (Israel today) a foreign King named Antiochus (an TEE uh kus) invaded the land. He came from Syria to take over Judea. He killed many of the men, and enslaved the Jewish people. Resistance was strong, but the Jews were no match for the Syrian army. Life was grim for the Jewish nation.
One day, King Antiochus issued a decree, “This is my new law. The Jews may no longer worship in their temple. They may not worship their G-d at all. From now on the temple will be used for worshiping the Greek gods and the Jews must worship them, too.” Some of the Jews did what the king commanded, but many of them refused to follow his orders. Judah Maccabee said, “NO!” This was the last straw—he was not going down without a fight!
Judah, along with his four brothers, put together an army of Jews to fight the king from Syria. They named it the Maccabee Army—that was their family name, but the name means “hammer”, and they were prepared to hammer the king’s forces. For three years fierce fighting went on, but the Maccabee Army was finally able to drive the invaders out of the land of Judea. The Jewish people were finally free! They set about cleaning up their land, and getting rid of everything that belonged to the Syrians.
In Jerusalem, the capital of Judea, there was a beautiful temple built for Yahweh (YAW way), the Jewish G-d. It was made from limestone rock filled with wondrous fossils, and gilded everywhere with gold. The temple was the holiest place, in the holiest city, of the holiest people in the world. But the Syrian king had desecrated it—he had painted signs of the Greek gods on the walls, and brought in idols, worshiping his gods in the holiest Jewish places. The temple had to be cleansed and restored. The people got to work. They took out all the statues and symbols that belonged to the Syrians. They cleaned off the markings, made new utensils, shined up the metal, polished the stone.
Finally, on the 25th day of the month of Kislev, the temple was rededicated to Yahweh and ready for worship to begin again. The only thing left to do was to light the eternal light, N’er Tamid (nair tah MEED). Once the oil lamp was lit, it should never be allowed to go out. But Judah and his men could only find one very small jar of lamp oil. There was only enough left to fuel the lamp for one day. What should they do? The temple was ready for worship, they needed to light the lamp, but there wasn’t enough oil to keep the lamp burning. It would take at least a week to make more of the special olive oil that was needed to fuel the lamp! They decided to light the lamp anyway, and the nation worshiped joyfully.
The next day work began on making more olive oil for the eternal light. Cloth was laid around the base of the olive trees and the branches were beaten with a stick. When the olives fell off the tree onto the cloth, oil would spill out and collect on the cloth. This was the “beaten oil” used to light the lamp in the temple. It took eight days to make enough oil to keep the lamp burning for several days.
Judah went back to the temple, expecting to find the lamp had burned out, but mysteriously it was still lit! The next day it was the same. The people were amazed! The N’er Tamid was still burning eight days after it had been lit, even though there had only been enough oil in the lamp to burn for one day! Now there was no worry about it going out again, because there was plenty of olive oil to fuel the lamp and more was being made every day. What a joyful celebration the nation had—their lives had been reborn!
Today Hanukkah is the holiday that celebrates the miracle of the N’er Tamid—the lamp that burned for eight days with only one day of fuel. Jewish people around the world remember the victory of their people who drove out the invading Syrians and the day the temple was rededicated to G-d and worship began again. Hanukkah begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the day the temple was rededicated to G-d, and lasts for eight days, to celebrate the miracle of the oil. The word Hanukkah means “rededication.”