What is Hanukkah?

This year Hanukkah begins at sundown tonight (December 16) and will end on Christmas Eve (December 24).  The word Hanukkah means dedication and is sometimes called “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication” (John 10:22).  Hanukkah is an 8-day Jewish celebration commemorating the rededication of the altar of the temple after the abominations of the Greek King Antiochus Epiphanes (~175-164BC). 

Origin of Hanukkah

In the Bible, the origin of Hanukkah is described in the deuterocanonical book of 1Maccabees (1 Maccabees 1:10,41-63; 4:48-59; 6:16-17). The Greeks had been ruling Israel for about 150 years beginning with Alexander the Great in 330BC.  During this time, many Israelites began adopting the customs of the Greeks and were later ordered by King Antiochus Epiphanes to give up their customs and be ONE with the Greeks.  Everyone who didn’t obey would be killed.  The king sacrificed pigs (unclean animals) on the altar of the temple and erected a “desolating sacrilege”, which according to many sources was a statue of the Greek God, Zeus.  Note:  This is very similar to what is described in the book of Revelation and what will happen in the end times.   

Despite the threat of death, some of the Jews, led by Judas Maccabeus, fought against the Greeks.  After their victory, they purified the temple and dedicated it on the 25th of Chislev/Kislev (~December) which was the very same day the Greeks had offered unholy sacrifices on the altar 3 years earlier.  The Jews offered holy sacrifices to God and lit the oil lamps.  They determined that the “Feast of Dedication” should be observed with joy and gladness every year, thus Hanukkah was established (~165BC). 

Miracle Oil

Tradition says that a miracle occurred during the first Hanukkah involving the holy oil for the lamps in the temple.  Because the Greeks had been using the holy oil, there was enough oil only for 1 day, but the 1-day supply of oil lasted the entire 8 days of the feast!  The miracle oil is alluded to in 2Maccabees 1.  Oil in the Bible represents the Holy Spirit or the anointing of God, and many churches continue this tradition of keeping a light burning continuously to represent the presence of God. 

Why is Hanukkah 8 Days?

When the altar of the first permanent temple was built during the reign of King Solomon (~1000BC), the Israelites held the Feast of Dedication for 7 days and had a sacred assembly on the 8th day (2 Chronicles 7:9).  This feast however, occurred in the 7th month (~September) whereas Hanukkah is celebrated in the 9th month and usually corresponds to December on our calendar.

HanukkiyahMenorah, Courtesy of Microsoft Free Images

HanukkiyahMenorah, Courtesy of Microsoft Free Images


Why does the Menorah have 9 candles?

The traditional Menorah has 7 candles, but the Hanukkiyah has 9 candles.  The middle candle is the helper candle called a shamash.  It is used to light the other 8 candles.  Each night of Hanukkah an additional candle is lit, so that by the last night of the celebration, all of the candles will be lit. 

1Maccabees 4 – 52 Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred forty-eighth year (~165BC), 53 they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt offering that they had built. 54 At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. 57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors. 58 There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed. (NRSVCE) 

Let’s Pray:  Thank You Jesus for being the light of the world and for sending us the Holy Spirit so we can also be the light in this dark world.  Help us allow Your light to shine brightly so others will want to know You.

QUESTION:  Did you know that Jesus is the Anointed One whose blood makes all things pure and holy?  Use the comment form to share your thoughts. 

Have a Victorious Day!
  • http://www.threedimensionalvitality.com/ Ann Musico

    I always love when you explain the origins of the feast days – it really brings them to life.

    • http://www.MarianneClements.org/ Marianne Clements

      Thanks so much for your enthusiasm and comments! God Bless You!

  • http://PurposefulPathway.com/ Caroline Gavin

    Thank you so much for this beautiful outline of the Hanukkah origins…and for the powerful prayer fixing our eyes on the Light of the world! You are a blessing to us, Marianne, and may God always bless you!