Hannukah is an eight day Jewish holiday beginning the 25th of Kislvev, the Jewish month coinciding with the secular (Gregorian) calendars 11th and 12th months. Hannukah is translated into “dedication.” It is a reminder that the holiday honors the re-dedication of the Temple of Jerusalem (located on the site of Temple Mount) in 165 B.C.E. after the Jewish claimed victory over Syrian Greeks. Hannukah is known as the Festival of Lights for the original candelabrum, a nine-branch Hannukah, or Menorah, holding one light for each day of the event. A typical Hannukah or menorah has eight lit branches with one raised light creating a ninth branch, called the Shamash. The Shamash’s purpose is to have a light utilized as it is forbidden to use the Menorah lights.
Jerusalem’s famous Jewish Temple was taken by Syrian Greeks in 168 B.C.E. and dedicated to worshipping Zeus, one of their gods. Later, the emperor Antiochus, also a Syrian Greek, created a law against observing Judaism, ordering all Jewish people to instead worship only the Greek gods. This act led to resistance, beginning in Modiin village close to Jerusalem. One of the village’s High Priests was ordered to commit acts against Jewish beliefs, leading to a major retaliation and eventually death to the Syrian Greek officer. The ensuing riot included the villagers and the High Priest's five sons who attacked and killed the other soldiers and promptly went into hiding.
The Jews rallied in the mountains, eventually reclaiming their land from the Greeks. These Jewish rebels were known as Hasmoneans, or Maccabees. Following this, the Maccabees went back to the Temple of Jerusalem, which had been used to pray to the Greek gods, and went about purifying it. They used the Menorah to burn ritual oil within the temple for eight straight days. Though they were dismayed to discover they would only have oil for one day’s worth of lighting, the small iota of oil lasted the full eight days. Each year during Hannukah the very special menorah, called the hanukkiyah, is lit and the people celebrate the significance of the special, long-lasting oil lit so many centuries ago.
Other popular traditions associated with Hannukah include the spinning of the top called a dreidel playing a game distinct to the holiday. The significance of the oil also brings fried foods in to play. During Hannukah, the Jewish people eat many fried specialties including potato and onion pancakes called latkes and sufganiyot, which are fried donuts filled with jelly. Eating dairy is also customary, a tradition which began in the Middle Ages and is still popular today. Blintzes, cheesecake, and cheese are a few of the dairy items often seen during a Hannukah feast.