With the stress of gift-giving and travel, it’s easy to lose sight of the religious significance of the holidays. Instead of focusing on why we celebrate them in the first place, our attention drifts to scoping out the best deals and how to keep ourselves from eating too many mashed potatoes. The fact of the matter, however, is that the holidays are rich with religious history– Hanukkah, for example, is observed for eight nights, and the reason behind this lies in battles fought long ago.
Read on to learn why there are eight days and nights of Hanukkah.
Alexander the Great became king of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedon in 336 BCE after his father’s death. Under his reign, Macedon (otherwise known as Macedonia) conquered Syria, Egypt, and Palestine, and allowed these countries’ inhabitants to observe their own religions and remain relatively autonomous. Alexander the Great’s successor, however, a Syrian-Greek emperor named Antiochus, exercised a stricter relationship with these countries, and began to oppress the Jews by outlawing Jewish rituals and ordering them to worship Greek gods.
These regulations angered the Jews, and they decided to fight back. Led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews fought their Greek-Syrian oppressors for three years, and eventually succeeded in driving them out of Judea in the Maccabean Revolt. Afterwards, the Jews restored the Temple of Jerusalem, and cleaned out the Temple by removing all Greek symbols. When this was done, Judah and his followers celebrated by lighting an oil lamp. Because the Greeks had defiled the temple, there was only enough oil left for one day. Astonishingly, the lamp remained lit for eight days.
The story of Hanukkah is contained in the books of the First and Second Maccabees, which are included in the Old Testament used by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. The holiday is celebrated on the 25th of the month of Kislev for eight days and eight nights, and can take place anywhere from November to early January. This year, Hanukkah will start the evening of Saturday, December 24, and end on the evening of Sunday, January 1.