By Marie Hoyer
Antiochus IV Epiphanes lived in the second century BCA. He despised the Jewish people, outlawed their religion, and desecrated their sacred temple in Jerusalem. Later the Jewish people successfully rebelled against the Greeks in 162 BCE in the Maccabean War. Upon reclaiming the temple it was ritually cleaned and rededicated. However, when they went to light a lamp in the temple it was found there was just enough consecrated olive oil for one day. They lit it and imagine their surprise when the oil lasted for eight days!
This event became known as Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights and is celebrated in the Jewish month of Kislev. (The Jewish calendar is based on both lunar and solar cycles.) In 2015 the dates will be Monday, December 7 through Monday, December 15.
The first night of Hanukkah begins at sunset with a special blessing. A specially shaped candleholder known as a menorah has 9 holders to contain nine candles. Eight of these are lit during the holiday. The ninth candle is known as a shamash (servant) and is used to light the others. This candle is usually higher or lower than the others. Special prayers and hymns are said and sung.
Games may be played with a special four-sided top called a dreidel which has a special letter on each side. Dreidels were used during the rule of Antiochus who had outlawed the study of Judaism. Whenever Roman soldiers were near children or adults spinning the top, it would look like gambling or play. Instead, the letters told the story of the miracle of the oil in the Torah.
Foods play an important part during this festival, especially those fried or baked in oil such as potato pancakes, or latkes, and jam filled doughnuts and fritters.