Today at sundown marks the beginning of the eight-day observance by Jews around the world known as Hanukkah.
The Jewish celebration of the Maccabees ancient victory over the Greeks begins tonight and continues through sundown on Dec. 16
Celebrated for eight days and nights beginning on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, Hanukkah means "dedication" in Hebrew and marks the Jewish Maccabees successful struggle against the Hellenist Syrians in the ancient Middle East.
HOLIDAY BEGINS — Hanukkah, the eight days of Jewish celebration of an ancient victory over Greeks begins today at sundown and continues through Dec. 16. Tonight first candle on the menorah will be lit from the center candle, known as the shammash. -- Mark Miller
Mattathias, the Jewish high priest, became enraged after one villager offered to eat pork and bow to the god, and he used his sword and killed both the villager and the officer. His five sons and other villagers then killed the soldiers, after which the family went into hiding in the mountains. Joined by other rebellious Jews, Mattathias' family waged a guerrilla war against the Greek soldiers, which was taken over by Mattathias' son Judah after the priest died. After three years the Jews defeated the Greeks despite being outgunned and outmanned.
In 165 B.C.E., the Greek king of Syria Antiochus ordered the suppression of all Jewish rituals and mandated Jews worship the Greek gods. In 168 B.C.E., the Syrians seized the Jewish holy temple and dedicated it to Zeus, a Greek god. The Maccabees, a Jewish tribe, decided to fight the Greeks to regain control of their temple, with fighting beginning in the village of Modiin near Jerusalem. There the Greek soldiers ordered Jews to eat pork and bow to the Greek idols, which they refused to do.
Returning to the temple after defeating the Greeks, the Maccabees cleaned the temple and discovered a small bottle of oil, which they used to light the great menorah. The flame burned for eight days despite the small amount of oil, which the Maccabees took as a miracle.
To commemorate the event, on each successive evening of Hanakkuh another candle on the menorah is lit from the center candle, known as the shammash. On the eighth night, there will be eight lit candles on the menorah, one for each of the eight days' evening ceremony. Each candle represents an aspect of God's relationship with the Jews, including God as light of the world on the first night; the light of the Torah, or Jewish sacred text, on the second evening; the light of justice on the third evening; the lighting of the candle on the fourth day represents the quality of mercy; the fifth night's candle stands for holiness; the sixth night's candle represents love; the seventh evening's lighting stands for patience; and the eight and final evening's light represents courage.
Additionally during each evening's Hanukkah rituals, songs are sung, games are played and potato pancakes, called latkes, are eaten.