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The History Behind Hanukkah


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Have you ever thought or heard, Hanukkah is Christmas for Jewish people? It’s not. Let me repeat that, Hanukkah is not the Jewish version of Christmas. Traditional Jews don’t even celebrate Christmas. So, in this era of inclusion and awareness, here’s your early holiday gift—information compliments of & the History channel.  

The History Behind Hanukkah?

Hanukkah (so often mispronounced and misspelled) translates into “to dedicate.” The Jews celebrate the rededication of the Jerusalem defiled temple.  Now to understand the significance, we have to time travel back to the second century BCE. (BCE meaning before common era previously known as BC—before Christ). Picture Jerusalem (the city-state) flourishing between two powerful countries Egypt and Syria. The ruler of Syria planned to siege Egypt to unify is empire, but little old monothetic Jerusalem was smack in the way. 

The Syrian leader, Antiochus IV, was a believer in the Greek traditions of arts, science, and philosophy—basically today’s science minded atheists or agnostics. Clearly land barriers weren’t the only problem. Antiochus IV ordered a hostile takeover. His men slaughtered thousands of people, and he outlawed the Jews religion. Some Jews did conform, but when Antiochus proclaimed his plans to rededicate their temple to Zeus, all hell broke loose. 

Hanukkah—the War of the Sons of light

The devout Jews revolted and fought for their independence from 168-164 BCE.  By the end of the war (three years after Antiochus defiled their temple), the Jews took the city and temple back and rededicated it, thus we have Hanukkah. On an interesting tangent, the celebration of Hanukkah wasn’t the only thing to emerge from this war. The rules of Islam engagement which have plagued the world for thousands of years also emerged—“Rules for Holy War.”


Now you know the history, lets dive into the best part–the festivities. First and foremost, they are celebrating the cleansing and return of their most holy of places, the temple. Also, the “Hannukah Miracle” of oil which lasted eight days is central.What is this miracle? Back in 164 BCE when the Jews rededicated the temple, it was as requirement for the menorah to burn continually. The “miracle” celebrated is the oil lasting eight days and nights when only one day’s worth existed. Thus, Hanukkah is also traditionally celebrated for eight days.  

Hanukkah Symbolism and Tradition

The menorah is displayed in a prominent location in the home. Every night an additional candle is lit starting with one and ending on the last day with all candles ablaze. Another tradition is the beloved feasts. Traditional Jewish foods are fried in (you guessed it) oil. Latkes (potato and onion pancakes), sufganiyot (jam filled donuts) are among the favorites. Dreidel games, music, and exchanging gifts are also celebrated. 

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Knowing is Only Half of Inclusion

According to In America, where the religious population is 70% Christian and only 23% non-religious, that leaves a small margin for Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu. Jewish religion represents 1.9% of our fellow citizens, ( Christmas music proliferates stores, the radio, everywhere through December.  Can you imagine how they must feel?  Inclusion doesn’t mean they have to have equal airtime. In relation to the percentage represented, that wouldn’t make sense. Having lived in Thailand for over a year as a Christian, I can understand the deep seeded desire to experience your own culture out in the world. 

A Picture of Hanukkah Inclusion

Inclusion is giving people the space to be themselves and respecting that. Do not force Jewish people to celebrate other religious traditions. Think about it. Christmas is usually the only holiday celebrated. How would you feel if your workplace said it was mandatory to come to the “Christmas party?” Not only is that offensive, it’s the opposite of what it means to be American. Didn’t our ancestors leave England for religious freedom? Let’s not repeat Antiochus’s blunder and force assimilation. So how can we be inclusive?

  1. Don’t force celebrations or holiday sentiments like Merry Christmas.
  2. Don’t criticize other’s for not sharing the same beliefs or customs. Happy Holiday’s is totally fine.
  3. Offer Kosher goodies. Remembering others is the key.
  4. Invite, but don’t shame or coerce.
  5. Please don’t incorporate a menorah into Christmas, it has nothing to do with Christmas.
  6. When in doubt research or google. Don’t ask the only Jewish person you know.

So, Happy Holidays and “L’Chaim!”

“Who is wise? One who learns from every man… Who is strong? One who overpowers his inclinations… Who is rich? One who is satisfied with his lot… Who is honorable? One who honors his fellows.” 

~ Ben Zoma, Ethics of the Fathers, 4:1

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