How Hanukkah Started:
About 150 years after the death of Alexander the Great, a king named Antiochus declared that everyone in his empire had to think of him as a new god-ahead of their own gods. He declared that his face was the face of god and that statues of him had to be put up around the empire. Many people in the cities of Judah had no problem with that. Even the High Priest of the temple in Jerusalem was fine with the idea. But out in the countryside, the Jewish farmers were horrified. Still, they thought they had to do what Antiochus’s soldiers ordered them to do. That changed one day when soldiers ordered the local Jewish priest to sacrifice a pig in front of the statue of Antiochus. The local Jewish priest, Mattathias refused to follow the soldiers’ orders. But one of the men in the crowd, who probably thought that he would be rewarded, came forward to sacrifice the pig. Mattathias killed the man and cried out, “If you follow the law, follow me!” and he and his five sons fled to the hills to form what we now call a ‘guerilla army’. The farmers who made up that ‘army’ were’t experienced soldiers, but they succeeded by making unexpected attacks at night and then fading back into the hills. One of Mattathias’s son’s became the leader of the army. His name was Judah and because he struck the enemy like a hammer, he was given the name Judah Maccabee. After fighting for three years, the Maccabees were able to drive Antiochus’s army out of Jerusalem. They and their followers got rid of the statues of Antiochus the Temple and cleared out all of the garbage that his troops had left there. To celebrate the dedication of the restored Temple, Judah proclaimed an eight-day festival called Hanukkah, which means ‘dedication’. Jews have celebrated that festival for over 2000 years.
Today, many people celebrate Hanukkah with their family by singing many songs and eating latkes, chocolate gelt, and other delicious foods, as well as spinning the dreidel.
" SJCSOP Hanukkah Program." Oak Park, IL: SJCSOP, 2005. With permission.