The Festival of Lights
Hebrew Calendar Dates: Begins the 25th of Kislev, for the next 8 days and 8 nights.
Torah reference: The Holiday of Chanukah is of rabbinical origin. The sages based their establishment of the Chanukah festival on the miracle of the one undefiled cruse that had oil sufficient for one day, but which lasted for eight days (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat, 21b).
When it began:
Chanukah means “dedication” or “induction.” Following their victory over the Greeks, the Maccabees rededicated the Holy Temple (the Second Temple) and its altar, which had been desecrated and defiled by the pagan invaders. The word Chanukah can also be divided into two: Chanu—they rested, and Kaf hay which has the numerical value of 25. On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the Maccabees rested from their battle, and triumphantly marched into the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, ready to rededicate it.
When the miracle of the oil occurred in 139 BCE, the Jews celebrated. The rabbis then proclaimed that these eight days should become an annual holiday on the Jewish calendar. The next year, 138 BCE, Chanukah was celebrated for the first time, complete with the lighting of the Chanukah menorah.
How it’s observed today:
The menorah is lit each night of Chanukah, complete with the recital of special blessings. We start with one candle, adding an additional one each night, beginning from left to right. The prayer services throughout Chanukah include a Torah reading and the recital of Hallel. The Al Hanisim prayer for Chanukah is inserted in both the daily prayers and the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals).
Singing Maoz Tzur and other songs of praise to God after the candle lighting.
Eating donuts (Sufganiyot) and latkes, in tribute to the miracle of the one (1) pure flask of oil that was found in the Temple and burned in the Menorah for 8 days.
Chanukah gelt/gifts are distributed.