What a wonderful holiday. Full of joy and happiness. Full of cheer. And coming just when the much of the world is bathed in darkness and cold. Eight days of songs and festivities and children's laughter.
To know the entire history of this holiday of Hanukkah, called the "Festival of Lights", it would be easy to simply Google your way around. There are tens if not hundreds of places that tell the story in many ways.
It was during the Second Temple Era, when the Greeks decided that Judaism would no longer be practiced. It was time again to mass an overall frontal attack on Judaism and all that it stood for. It was a war between monotheism and belief in many gods. A war between the seen and the unseen. It was a war which should have been won hands down by the Greeks and their superior might.
There are many tragic stories as well that deal with Hanukkah. Judah the Maccabee, and his brothers were created in an age of difficult persecution. Hannah sacrificed seven sons on the alter of preserving Judaism.
The Temple lay in virtual ruin. Jewish law and practice was outlawed. Jews who refused to convert to the Greek way of life hid out in caves. Hellenism became an enemy. Enlightenment as the Greeks saw it, just was not going to encompass the Jews and their religion. It could merge with it, but Idol worship was simply out of the question.
And thus the Maccabeean war began and ended with the Jews once again taking control of the central, focal point of their lives. Thus the Greeks had to give up on the dream to "Hellenize" the Jewish people.
And thus came about the day when according to legend, the remnants at the Temple in Jerusalem were scoured for an unbroken bottle of "pure" oil to light the Menorah in the Temple. This bottle required a seal of the High Priest. And only one bottle was found. Enough for one day.
And the Miracle of Hanukkah took place. The oil was used and burned for eight days. Long enough for the Temple to be somewhat cleaned and more oil to be produced. Eight days, symbolizing the number beyond nature. Eight days symbolizing the Miracle.
And the Holiday of Hanukkah was born. One in which we as Jews light up the night and chase away the dark. One where we say in a combined, united voice, the night will not last. And light is not brought to humankind through death and destruction. It is brought into this world by lighting the oil. By spreading the light, night after night. For even during the blackest of moments, even during the times when blackness threatens to engulf our entire being, there is the miracle of but one small vial of oil that managed to chase away all that evil darkness.
Hanukkah is indeed a time for celebration and joy and love and sharing. It is a time for light - and a time to chase away the darkness.
And because of this, tradition has it that we eat foods made in oil throughout this holiday. "Latkes" (potato pancakes), "Sufganiyot" (Jelly Donuts) and other fried foods are all over. And so we will devote here at Help! I Have A Fire In My Kitchen a few posts to these traditional and other fried foods.
An Historical Footnote about Hanukkah:
Judaism has a holiday called Hanukkah, and though the Jewish calendar uses the Lunar cycles, it falls out every year in the middle of the Winter, around "Christmas" Time. This is an 8 day holiday commemorating the recapture of the second temple from the Greeks around 300-400 BCE. However, please take note that Hanukkah is also called the "Festival of Lights" due of course to the finding of the oil and the lighting of the Menorah. However that name Festival of Lights is critical here. "Light" is a central theme of the holiday.
Obviously Christians have a holiday named Christmas which for most of the world (not all) falls out on Dec. 25th. This is supposedly the day of Jesus's birth and Jan. 1st which is 8 days later his circumcision (a little known fact or passed over usually). Again an eight day holiday.
Interesting though, that these two religions have a holiday at the same time. More interesting that the Greeks and then the Romans had a holiday at this time as well. "Saturnalia" it was called (later to become famous with Milton's Paradise Lost). This holiday actually marked the Winter Solstice. It occurred on Dec. 25th.
Ahh, so now suddenly we have Judaism, Early Christianity, and the Romans all celebrating a like holiday at the same time.
Gets more interesting
The Talmud tells us (again i will not argue with the historical veracity of this story or not) that the time of Hanukkah was actually a holiday that stretched back to Adam and Eve. When Adam and Eve left Eden and had to exist in our "normative" world the legend tells us, that as the days got shorter Adam was sure that God was getting ready to destroy the world as punishment to him. Because he saw the sun going down earlier and earlier. Then suddenly when the days started getting longer, in the lunar cycle of what we know as Hanukkah today, Adam realized this is how nature works. Thus he created an 8 day holiday to commemorate this, which Hanukkah then took over.
Funny, Hanukkah, Christmas and Saturnalia are all 8 day holidays. All deal with "light" in their own way, all represent a REBIRTH in a time of darkness.
It is time for songs and laughter and great food.