This past Sunday at sundown was the start of the 8 day celebration of Hanukkah.
The story goes like this: A few centuries before the birth of Jesus, Israel was occupied by the Greeks. During the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, in 167 BCE, Antiochus ordered the Jewish Temple to be the site of an altar to the god Zeus, and defiled it by sacrificing a pig. The Jews, led by the priest Mattathias and his five sons (Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan, and Judah), led a rebellion and liberated the Temple. Judah "The Hammer" (Yehuda Hamakabi, or Judas Maccabeus), took over leadership of the rebellion when his father died. Judah cleansed the Temple and built a new altar. Inside the Temple was a menorah, a seven-branched candlestick, that burned continuously. Only enough consecrated oil was found to burn for one day, but miraculously it burned for eight -- enough time to prepare fresh oil. A miracle was therefore declared, and an 8 day festival was celebrated. The story is found in the Talmud.
Hanukkah, the *Festival of Lights*, is celebrated by an 8-candle menorah. One candle for each night is lit with the shamash, the attendant candle. Then, the family sings Hanukkah hymns (Haneirot Halalu and/or Maoz Tzur), recites the Hallel and the Al HaNissim prayer that praise and thank HaShem for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few...the wicked into the hands of the righteous."
The family dines on fried foods -- latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiot (doughnuts) -- to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted. A popular game is playing with the dreidel, a spinning top with four Hebrew letters that stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham, "a great miracle happened there." Hanukkah gelt, gifts or money, are given to children. It is a joyous and happy time.