What is Hanukkah and Why Do We Celebrate It?

What is Hanukkah and Why Do We Celebrate It?

Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, is observed on the 25th of Kislev or the ninth month of the Hebrew calendar. This is a wintertime holiday that lasts 8 days occurring in either November or December. 

The word “Hanukkah” in Hebrew means “dedication”. It was on this day during the times of the Maccabees that the Temple was cleansed and rededicated to the Lord after it had been defiled by the Greeks. 

What is the Story of Hanukkah?

The story of Hanukkah comes from the first book of Maccabees. In it, many of the Hebrews had started to stray from the laws of God, instead, they turned to wickedness and made covenants with the surrounding nations. They started worshipping idols and following the customs of those opposed to God (1 Maccabees 1: 1 – 15). 

The Temple is defiled

Antiochus Epiphanes, after defeating Ptolemy the king of Egypt,  attacked Israel and defiled the Temple. He took the golden altar, the candlestick of light- the Menorah, all the vessels, and the hidden treasures from the Temple. He collected taxes from the people, and attacked the cities, and destroyed the walls even after promising peace. There was so much turmoil and bloodshed that many of the Hebrews fled Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 1: 16 – 40).

On top of all this, king Antiochus made a decree that everyone in the kingdom should be one people, that every man should forsake the laws, customs, and traditions of his forefathers and should instead worship as one people, without a difference. He forbade the temple offerings and sacrifices, observance of the Sabbath and feast days, and circumcision. Those who disobeyed were killed. Even though many relented and forsook God during this time, many didn’t. Men, women, and children were killed because they observed Shabbat, and performed the sacrifices, refused to eat pork, and continued to practice circumcision (1: 41 – 53; 56- 64). 

The last straw came on the 15th of Kislev in 145 B.C. when the Greeks set up the abomination of desolation[ a pig] upon the altar, built altars to idols throughout Judea, and ripped and burnt the Torah. Finally, on the 25th of Kislev, the Greeks sacrificed the pig on the altar of God (1: 54-59). 

Matthathias and his sons fight back

By this time, Mattathias, a priest, and his five sons – Joannan, Simon, Judas also known as Maccabeus, Eleazar, and Jonathan, had to do something to stop the atrocities happening all around them. They gathered a band of righteous men and attacked the king’s men when they tried to force them to sacrifice to idols. They continued to fight back and they won, time and time again. Each time gaining a little bit more of the liberties back (1 Maccabees 2: 1 – 48). 

Matthathias dies and Judas leads, fighting long hard battles against many kings for their freedoms. The Hebrews cry out to God for help and deliverance (1 Maccabees 3: 1 – 56).

Hanukkah is established

Finally, with the help of the Lord, the Maccabees were able to take back the Temple. Exactly three years after the Temple was first defiled, in 148 B.C. on the 25th of Kislev, the Temple was cleansed, restored, and dedicated to the Lord. They lit the golden Menorah and sang and played before God (1 Maccabees 4: 34 – 55). 

The Feast of Dedication was celebrated eight days by feasting, decorating the Temple with crowns of gold, and great rejoicing and celebration. Judas Maccabeus, his brothers, and the whole congregation of Israel ordained the Feast of Dedication to be kept every year for eight days on the 25th of Kislev with mirth and gladness (4: 56 – 59). 

Why Do We Celebrate the Feast of Dedication?

Hanukkah Menorah with torn parchment paper.
Photo by Diana Polekhina on Unsplash

The greatest theme present in the story of the Maccabees is their righteous devotion to God. It was because they loved God with all their heart, mind, soul, and strength that they were able to fight for the observance of His laws. They were dedicated to God and they believed that He would restore peace to the land. 

We celebrate Hanukkah as a reminder that we should be dedicated to God, should always strive to serve Him, and keep His laws and commandments above all else. 

Ways to Celebrate the Feast of Lights

There are many ways you and your family can celebrate this wonderful holiday.


Decorate your home just like the Temple was decorated. My family and I love to decorate with blue and white streamers, fairy lights, candles, and our vintage Menorah. 

Light the Menorah

It is tradition to light the Menorah every night to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting for 8 days. However, as we saw in a previous blog post, there isn’t any evidence that this happened. 

We light the Menorah every night to celebrate the Temple being rededicated to the Lord and our laws being restored back to us. The Temple Menorah was lit with olive oil, but you can use candles as well! 


The fun part of celebrating these feast days is the food. We love to eat Latkes or hash browns, soup, challah, donuts, and chocolate coins during these days.

Praise and Worship

Our forefathers praised and worshipped the Lord with gladness. It is a day of thanksgiving and joy. Read the story of the Maccabees, study the Torah, and pray that we will always stay true to the commandments of God during this time and forever. 

I hope you have eight days filled with blessing, joy, and thanksgiving. Shalom.

Read More

The History and Traditions of Hanukkah

Gregorian calendar vs the Hebrew Calendar

Spring Feast Days

Fall Feast Days

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