The History of Chanukah

The history of Chanukah, otherwise known as Hanukkah dates back more than 2,000 years ago, where the Jewish people were living under the oppressive regime of the Syrian ruler Antiochus Ephipanes IV. Antiochus IV was the successor of Seleucus one of the Generals of Alexander the Great. Antiochus IV was rather the opposite of Alexander the Great’s respect for the monotheistic religion of the Jews. During the regime of Antiochus IV, he outlawed some of the most important Jewish tradition and religious practices such as the circumcision, the holy Sabbath, and the study of Torah in order to further campaign for the “hellenization” of the Palestine.

Antiochus IV broaden his oppression by establishing an altar in the temple of Jerusalem dedicated to a Roman god Jupiter where swine was slaughtered for offering. This caused insurmountable desolation among the Jewish people and drives them to rebel against the oppression. The rebellion was known as the Maccabean revolt in the history of Chanukah and was led by Judas Maccabee, the third son of the priest named Mattathias who hailed from Hasmonaim family. Judas Maccabee merely continued what was once started by his father, a staunch revolutionary against the cruelty of the Syrian ruler.

The Syrians were overthrown, as Judas Maccabee and his soldiers cleared the temple of any pagan signs and eventually ground to dust the statue of Jupiter. They won the battle through guerilla tactics in spite being outnumbered. A feast of their victory was founded on the 25th Kislev on 165 B.C. in an act to purify the temple that was once blasphemed by the Syrians. The story further told that the light of the temple was once rekindled with only pure oil that could last for only a day; but miraculously it lasts for eight days. Thus the celebration for the festival of lights lasted for eight days.

The Chanukah celebration does not center on the military victory itself but for the rekindling of the light on the temple. That is why the most important part of the Chanukah festival is the lighting of the colorful candles in a menorah with eight branches. They lit one candle each night for eight days adding one candle a day. Even the food being prepared for the festival hailed its roots from the historical uprising against the oppressors. The history of Chanukah has it that the women during the battle prepared flat cakes for the Jewish rebels because they could be prepared in an instant. The history of Chanukah and the lighting of the temple involves oil, thus foods prepared in oil were common during the festival. The festival also includes games such as dreidel and the giving of gelt money for children as well as singing Hanukkah songs.

Early on, Chanukah celebration was just a minor holiday, gaining only its popularity side by side with the Passover only late 19th century as among the most popular Jewish Holiday. This was brought upon by the Jewish-American people who also popularized the gift giving ideas in the late 19th century. The popularity of the Chanukah festival further strengthens the bond among Jewish people all over the world.

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