Chanukkah celebration narrates the victory of Jews against Greeks for the cause of religious freedom. The festival of lights, Chanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights beginning from 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar (which is November-December on the Gregorian calendar). The onset of this festival is uniquely linked to winter solstice.
In Hebrew, the term “Hanukkah” refers to “dedication.” The festival of Chanukkah clearly portrays the dedication of Maccabees in their endeavor to restore their religious freedom from the clutches of the Greek. By and large, the festival commemorates the religious freedom and victory of Jews.
Origin of Chanukkah
During the second century BC, the exultant Syrians outlawed Jews religion and rituals, displaying a policy of non-tolerance against other religion. At the time of winter solstice, the Syrians doused the holy flame of the Menorah that burned before the altar, to ruin the holy temple of Jews at Jerusalem.
After destroying the sanctity of Jews’ holy Temple, it was seized and dedicated to the worship of Zeus. The Greek King of Syria, Antiochus banned Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods, denying the religious right to Jews.
The diabolical outburst against Jews reached peak when a Greek officer along with his soldiers reached Modiin, a village not far from Jerusalem and assembled Jewish villagers asking them to consume beef and worship idol, something which is against their religion. The officer intentionally gave such orders to strip their belief in own religion.
The officer ordered Mattathias, a Jewish High Priest, to take part in the ceremony, who outrightly rejected it, but another villager geared to follow the order. Enraged Mattathias assassinated the man and the officer. This prompted Mattathias five sons and the other villagers to kill the soldiers, without comprising their religious dignity.
Mattathias’ family launched their resistance against the oppression of Greek soldiers to restore their religious freedom. Maccabee and his four brothers organized a group of resistance fighters known as the Maccabees who adopted guerilla tactic. Eventually their efforts showed results and surprisingly they flushed the large Greek-Syrian army out of Judea.
After defeating the Greek-Syrian army Judah Maccabee and his soldiers moved to re-establish their temple. To celebrate the occasion, the Maccabees wanted to light the Menorah in the Second Temple. They searched everywhere only to find a small flask having oil sufficient only to light the menorah for a day. However, miraculously the oil lasted for eight days. This incident marked the beginning of Chanuka festival. The Jews celebrate Chanuka for eight days by lighting candles in a menorah every night.
The Lighting of the Menorah
The lighting of the Menorah is the most essential ritual of Chanukah festival. The eight candles lit on Menorah signify the eight days of Chanukah. All the candles are of equal length except the middle one referred as Shamash , which helps in lighting the others. Each evening, Jewish families assemble around the menorah to offer special blessing.
Preparation of oil-based food
The traditional foods of Hanukah are cooked in oil to celebrate the oil flame in the Temple. Latkes, or potato pancakes are the universally accepted dishes on this occasion. Sufganiya, a kind of jelly donut cooked in oil is quite popular in Israel.
Hanukkah is a festival of fun and frolic for children. Families eat and play games, along with their invited guests. Dreidel is one such simple traditional game that can be enjoyed by whole family. The Practice of giving Hanukkah gelt (money) to children has developed into a gift-giving custom common in many Jewish families.
Message of the festival
Chanukkah celebrates the victory of Maccabees military over the Greek-Syrians and the revivification of the Second Temple after three years. Chanukkah the festival of lights teaches the essence of religious freedom and promotes a sense of brotherhood.