Chanukah is the eight-day festival commemorating the dedication of the temple by Judah and the Maccabees. Lighting the menorah is a very special time in the Jewish Calender for children and adults throughout the world. Chanukah celebrates the victory of the tiny Maccabee army over the Syrian-Greek superpower that controlled Israel. It is interesting to note that the Greeks were actually fond of the Torah (Jewish law) and they appreciated the beauty and wisdom of its texts; however they rejected other aspects because they were at odds with their practices.
Many Jews took Greek names, bowed to Greek idols, and even dressed as Greeks. When the Greek leader Antiochus moved to eliminate Jewish practices, the Jewish leader Matthias and his five sons, among them Judah the Maccabee, led a tiny army against the mighty Greeks.
In 165 BCE the Jews recaptured Jerusalem. The first task was to cleanse and rededicate the Holy Temple and rekindle the Great Menorah. The ancient menorah was a candle holder that was kept burning in the Temple at all times. The Talmud tells us that the Maccabees found only one flask of undefiled oil – enough to rekindle the Great Menorah for just one day; however the oil lasted for eight days, the exact amount of time needed for fresh pure oil to be pressed. Clearly this was a miracle.
We celebrate the miracle of the oil by lighting our menorahs. The menorah has nine candle sticks, one for each of the eight days and one to light the candles. We light one candle the first night, two the second, and three on the third until we reach eight on the eighth night. The menorah should be put near a window so its light can illuminate the world outside. We party and eat delicious foods, especially foods cooked in oil like potato latkes and doughnuts, and we give presents. In the past we gave gifts to the children in the form of gelt (money), but today many parents also give gifts.