Hanukkah is one of the most historically significant holidays in the Jewish tradition. Observed in the Hebrew calendar month of Kislev, which coincides with the Gregorian calendar months of November or December, Hanukkah is often celebrated through such traditions as lighting eight candles on the Menorah, eating potato latkes and chocolate gelt, spinning the dreidel, family gatherings, the exchanging of gifts and religious services. Like the Jewish holiday of Purim, Hanukkah is a festive occasion, and the reason for that is found in the history of the holiday.
The story of Hanukkah was passed down through the ages through oral tradition; though the story is missing from the Mishnah, or the written collection of Oral Law as detailed in the Talmud, it is found in the Gemara, the companion text to the Mishnah. It was also detailed by Titus Flavius Josephus, the 1st-century Roman historian of Jewish history, as well as in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees, books written anonymously in the 2nd century BCE. According to these and other sources, after Antiochus IV Epiphanes became Basileus of the Seleucid Empire, the Jewish people under his reign faced persecution, the stifling of their religious beliefs, and mass killings. By 165 BCE, Judas Maccabeus, commonly known as Judah Maccabee, had led a successful revolt against Antiochus, reclaiming and rededicating the Holy Temple. According to legend, in order to rededicate the temple, the Maccabees needed to light the Menorah, or nine-branched candleholder, but there was only enough oil to burn for one night. However, the candles burned miraculously for eight days, leading to the eight days of Hanukkah celebrated in modern times.
Hanukkah is celebrated by the Jewish people all over the world, and has even been celebrated in the White House: most recently, then-president George W. Bush held a Hanukkah ceremony in 2008. Hanukkah observance is to take place this year from December 8th to the 16th.
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