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Hanukkah, also known as Chanukah, is an eight day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication of the Second Jewish Temple that took place in Jerusalem around 165 BC. Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew.

Legend has it that around 200 BC, the land of Judea had come under the control of Seleucid, king of Syria who allowed the Jews to practice their religion. But when Antiochus IV Epiphanes, Seleucid's son came to power, he outlawed the Jewish religion and demanded that the Jews worship Greek gods.

In 168 BC, Antiochus sent his soldiers into Jerusalem and forbade the Jews to worship God. The soldiers killed many people and desecrated the city's Second Temple. They defiled the temple by erecting an alter that was dedicated to the Greek god, Zeus. The soldiers also made sacrifices of pigs and other unholy things within the Temple's sacred walls.

A Jewish priest, Mattathias, led a rebellion against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy called the Maccabean Revolt. Since Mattathias and his followers had few weapons and were greatly outnumbered, they had to use guerilla warfare tactics against the enemy which took several years.

After Mattathias died, his son Judah, known as the Hammer, took control of the revolt and drove the Syrians from Jerusalem. After securing control of Israel, a Jewish kingdom was established and it remained independent for more than a century afterwards.

Judah and his followers cleansed the Second Temple and put in a new alter to replace the one that had been desecrated. They rededicated the temple to God with ceremonies and festivals that lasted eight days.

According to traditional Jewish history, a miracle took place during the rededication ceremonies. It is said that only a one day supply of unblemished olive oil could be found for the ceremony, but miraculously, it burned for the entire eight days.

Often called the Festival of Lights, Jews commemorate Hanukkah by lighting candles all eight days of the festival. The lighting of candles has become the main theme of the celebration. Coinciding with the candle lighting ceremonies, a special blessing is said as the candles are lit.

One candle is lit the first night, two the second, three the third and so on until eight candles have been lit in a special candelabrum called a menorah. A Hanukkah menorah has eight branches and a holder for an extra candle that is used to light the others.

Hanukkah festivals are celebrated with songs, games, and the exchanging of gifts. Traditional foods such as potato pancakes and jam-filled donuts are fried in oil as a reference to the Hanukkah miracle.

According to the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah begins on the 25th of Kislev, which is the third month of the year. On the Gregorian Calendar, the eight days of Hanukkah falls between late November and late December.

Hanukkah falls within the year end holiday season that includes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years Eve and New Years Day.

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