Hanukkah memorializes the defeat of Assyrian Greeks by the priestly Maccabean family in 162 BC. It is not recorded in the canon of the Old Testament (which was already completed by this time).
Hanukkah is celebrated beginning on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which usually falls some time in December.
The lighting of the candles reminds Jewish people of the tradition of the Hanukkah miracle. When the Maccabees retook the Temple, they found that there was only enough olive oil left to keep the eternal light in the Temple burning for one day. Tradition says that the light burned for the eight days that it took to make more oil.
The story of Hanukkah is alluded to in the first Book of Maccabees, chapter 4. This book is part of the Apocrypha, a collection of inter-testamental writings that are accepted as historical by Jewish people, but are not part of the Old Testament.
It is traditional to eat foods fried in oil during the eight days of Hanukkah to commemorate the miracle of the oil that lasted eight days. In Israel, sufganiyot, a special jelly doughnut, is enjoyed, but outside of Israel the traditional foods during this time are latkes, potato pancakes, dipped in either sour cream or applesauce.
The only mention of Hanukkah in the Bible is in John chapter 10:22, where Jesus is found to be walking in the Temple area on what is called “the Feast of Dedication.”
Hanukkah is celebrated for eight nights in Jewish homes, and it is customary to give the children presents on each day.
Hanukkah is a joyous holiday and in many Orthodox Jewish communities, the children do not go to school. Carnivals and parties are held, and games are played with colorfully decorated tops called dreydls.
The Hanukkah menorah is a nine-branched candelabra, called a hanukkiah. The middle candle is always there, but as the nights go on, you place additional candles from right to left as you face the hanukkiah. The candles are lit with the middle candle—known as the “servant” candle, from left to right (lighting the newest candle first).