Rejoice in Freedom: The History of Hanukkah

Tree of Life MenorahThe end-of-year holiday celebrations have a way of immersing you into different traditions and values. Between office parties and social gatherings with friends and family, you’re bound to meet people from various religious beliefs. Christmas is celebrated on Dec. 25 and Kwanzaa falls on Dec. 26, but the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah starts earlier on Dec. 1. Hanukkah has an intriguing history that begins in rebellion and ends in a revolution to freedom.

Hanukkah is an eight-day festival of lights that starts at sundown on Dec. 1 and continues until sunset on Dec. 9. The first candle on the menorah is lit on the first day’s evening and then the remaining candles are lit for each following day. The menorah represents a significant moment in history, and it symbolizes freedom and publicizes a legendary miracle.

The History of Hanukkah

So what is the history behind this light filled observance? Christmas is a Christian holiday that commemorates the birth of Jesus, but Hanukkah is a Jewish tradition that honors the birth of a religious revolution.

The origins of Hanukkah began in Modin, Israel around 200 BCE. At the time, the Jewish people were under the rule of a Syrian king, but a new king, Antiochus IV, took over and forbid the Jews to practice their religion. Antiochus desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and placed an altar to the Greek God Zeus. One Jewish priest named Mattathias stood up for what he believed in and refused to participate in a pagan sacrifice. This priest’s brave action initiated a bloody rebellion that the Hasmonean dynasty led.

Mattathias took his five sons (Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah) and went into hiding, but within a year he died and put his son Judah Maccabee in charge of the rebel group. The dynasty was then referred to as the Maccabees, and these rebellious freedom fighters used passion as their driving force. Although they were a small band, the Maccabees eventually defeated the larger army of Assyrian Greeks.

After the victory, the Maccabees cleaned out the holy Temple and performed a rededication ceremony. Among the ruins, they could only found a small amount of oil to light. It took eight days for the Maccabees to fetch more kosher oil, but that small amount of oil continued to burn for those eight days.

Hanukkah recognizes this historical triumph of religious freedom and the miracle of oil. This is why Jewish families display the menorah in their homes for all to see. The term “Hanukkah” means “dedication,” and in order for the Maccabees to stand up and fight for their beliefs, it took all of the courage and commitment they had. Even if you don’t practice Judaism, you can still take away something from this powerful moment in history.

Reflect Light in Your Holiday Decorating

Regardless of which religion you practice, it’s comforting to know that you have the freedom to practice and honor it. Even though you might not be Jewish, you can still recognize this freedom and light up your home in celebration.

For your indoor home décor, you can add greenery to the mantel, banister, dining table and doorway with faux evergreen branches. This is an easy way to bring the beauty of evergreen trees indoors, and you can wrap strings of lights around the garland for a more eye-catching look.

You can also create outdoor wreaths with the garland and customize them with large illuminated star ornaments. On the porch or patio, you can enliven the outdoor space with a frosted candle trio or a stunning large-scale angel. A little light goes a long way, and it can make your holiday decorations really pop.

Opening your hearts and recognizing others beliefs is true holiday spirit, and it’s rewarding when you can share your holiday traditions with family and friends. So light up your humble abode this season and have a happy Hanukkah!


Marina Hanes is a writer and owner of Cat’s Eye Editing, LLC. She received a B.A. in Professional Writing & Editing from Youngstown State University, and her professional area of focus is Environmental Studies.

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