Hanukkah or Chanukah, also known as the "Festival of Lights" or the "Festival of Rededication," is a Jewish holiday celebrated from the 25th day of the Jewish month Kislev to the 2nd or 3rd day of Tevet. It lasts for eight days during the Gregorian months of November, December, or, less often, early January. The holiday commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem as described in the Bible in 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees.
In 175 BCE, Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the leader of Syria, which governed the Jewish territory of Israel or Judea. Antiochus gradually began to persecute the Jews throughout his reign, while under previous rulers, they had been free to follow their customs. The Temple in Jerusalem was sacked, Jews were killed in large numbers, and in 167 BCE, an altar to Zeus was built in the Temple. A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons, including Judah Maccabee, led a revolt against Antiochus. They were successful by the year 165 BCE, when they were able to rededicate the Temple to the Hebrew God.
When Judah Maccabee and his brothers wanted to rededicate the Temple, they discovered that there was only one day's supply of oil, while the Temple menorah, a candelabrum used in Jewish religious ceremonies, was supposed to burn all night, every night. Miraculously, the single day's supply of oil burned for eight days, enough time for more oil to be prepared. Hanukkah commemorates this miracle with the lighting of candles on eight successive nights. A Hanukkah menorah, with nine branches instead of the usual seven, is used for this purpose. Eight of the candles are lit one by one on each night of the holiday, and the ninth candle, known as the shamash, is lit every night and used to kindle the other candles.
In addition to the lighting of the candles, the festival is celebrated with traditional prayers and hymns. Other traditions include the game of dreidel, a gambling game using a spinning top; eating potato pancakes or doughnuts fried in oil as a reminder of the miraculous oil in the Temple; and giving gelt, real or chocolate money, as a gift. In recent decades, Jews have begun to exchange additional presents so that their children do not feel left out during the Christian winter holiday of Christmas, which has become quite commercialized. Some Jews choose to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday and Hanukkah as a religious one.