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The Llewellyn Encyclopedia

Term: Hanukkah



A winter solstice festival marking the return of the Solar light that became associated with a mythic event taking place during the Maccabean revolt against the Syrians during the 2nd century b.c.e. The Jews had been in control of Jerusalem, but were conquered by Rome and controlled by Syria (which had also been conquered by Rome). When the revolt took back the Jerusalem Temple, which had been desecrated, the Temple was purified and dedicated or consecrated (the meaning of the Hebrew word “Hanukkah”). A container of purified oil, which should have lasted only one day, lasted eight days, enough time to prepare fresh oil. 

The main form of celebration occurs within the home, lighting an increasing number of candles or oil lamps each night. Although a minor holiday among Jews—it included the giving of small gifts—because it takes place near the winter solstice and Christmas, in the U.S. it became commercialized, matching the commercialization of Christmas and the giving of often large and expensive presents. 


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