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Hanukkah History & Activities

Guest Author - Paula Laurita

This festival of lights celebrates the miracle of a great victory. It is also known as the Festival of Dedication.

Hanukkah comes from Hebrew which means "dedication" or "to dedicate." The celebration marks the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV about 2,400 years ago. It is also a celebration of the "miracle of the container of oil."

As a people who believed in one God the Jewish people were at odds with many of the cultures that surrounded them. The Syrian king Antiochus IV attempted to force the Jewish people to take up the worship of the Greek gods and goddesses. Laws were passed that forbid the Jews from practicing their religious beliefs. The sacred books of Hebrew scriptures were burned. Antiochus ordered that anyone who did not worship the Greek god Zeus would be put to death. Antiochus desecrated (made unholy) the Jewish Temple by turning the altar into an altar for Zeus. Other Greek religious symbols were placed in the Temple.

A small group of rebels known as the Maccabees (which means "hammers") fought the Syrians with only farm tools and sticks as their weapons. Amazingly, under the leadership of Mattathias Maccabee, and continued by Judah Maccabee and his brothers, they were able to defeat the Syrians.

To praise God for the victory the Maccabees went to the Temple. When they arrived they discovered that the Temple had not been cleaned and had statues of Greek gods. They wanted to light the menorah, which was a ceremonial seven-branched oil lamp of the Jewish Temple symbolizing the seven days of the Creation. (This type of menorah is used in Jewish homes today during weekly prayer.) The menorah was to be kept lit at all times in the Temple. There was only enough oil left for one day. Amazingly the menorah kept burning for eight days.

Today Jews around the world celebrate Hanukkah lighting their menorahs for eight nights. There are special Hanukkah menorahs which hold nine candles. The eight candles stand for the eight nights that the oil burned in the Temple. The ninth candle is the shammash, which is used to light all the other candles. The candles are light each day at sundown.

There are many fun traditions surrounding Hannukkah. Latkes (potato pancakes) are eaten, dreidel games are played by children, and chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, called Hanukkah gelt is given to friends and family. Many families exhange small gifts on each night of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Craft

You can make a simple Hanukkah menorah with a few simple supplies.

Items Needed

  • 9 blue birthday-cake candles
  • 10 white LifeSaver candies
  • 1 piece of poster board cut into a 1"x8" strip
  • white glue


  1. Spread a thick coat of glue down the center of the center of the poster board.
  2. Glue 9 LifeSaver candies in a row onto the poster board.
  3. Glue another LifeSaver candy on top of the candy in the center of the row. Let the glue dry completely.
  4. Set one candle in the hole of each candy piece.

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Content copyright © 2015 by Paula Laurita. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Paula Laurita. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Christine Sharbrough for details.


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