What is the Real Story of Hanukkah?
As a person of faith, (I believe in God, the Sacred, Spirituality, or whatever you wish to call it) I have always been amused at how people create narratives for religious purposes that do not actually match what is recorded in history.
Since this is the time Hanukkah, “the festival of lights” I figure this was as good a holiday as any to do a bit of research.
Though I wanted to make this Medium story as simple as possible, this was not to be.
I decided to branch out beyond some of the standard practices that are usually recommended for getting read, followers, and clicks for a Medium story.
I want this series to be a historical and intellectual Rabbit Hole.
As you read the Q. and A. I want you to go to outbound links, especially if you want to go past the mythology of Hanukkah into historical fact, the gory as well as enlightening details, and if they even happened the “miracles”.
Then you can fly off from fact to fact, or if you wish return to this series.
The best stories usually have a beginning, middle, and end. Of course, in the flow of history, this is a useful but artificial construct. There is always a before a “once upon a time” and an after “The End”. This story begins with the death of Alexander the Great and ends with Herod the Great, though clearly, the former King was greater than the latter.
So let’s begin the Real History of Hanukkah.
Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a Jewish festival commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The Seleucid Empire was a Hellenistic state in Western Asia that existed from 312 BC to 63 BC. It was founded by Seleucus I Nicator following the division of the Macedonian Empire established by Alexander the Great.
Hanukkah is observed for eight nights and days, starting on the 25th day of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar, which may occur at any time from late November to late December in the Gregorian calendar, the calendar used in most of the world in 2020.
How is Hanukkah observed and celebrated?
The festival is observed by lighting the candles of a candelabrum with nine branches, called a menorah. (or hanukkiah). One branch is typically placed above or below the others and its candle is used to light the other eight candles. This unique candle is called the shamash (שַׁמָּשׁ, “attendant”). Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the festival. Other Hanukkah festivities have been added through history. Throughout the Jewish diaspora and in modern Israel these may include playing the game of dreidel, eating oil-based foods, such as potato pancakes (latkes) a type of donut (sufganiyot), and various dairy foods. Since the 1970s, the worldwide Chabad Hasidic movement has initiated public menorah lightings in open public places in many countries.
Although a relatively minor holiday in strictly religious terms, Hanukkah has attained major cultural significance in North America and elsewhere, especially among secular Jews, due to its occurring around the same time as Christmas, and coming to be considered a Jewish counterpart or alternative to Christmas. When secular, usually progressive North Americans wish others a “Happy Holiday” they are usually including Hanukah, and possibly Kwanza (an annual celebration of African-American culture) with Christmas in their thinking.
In Part 2 of this Q & A series on Hanukkah, we will begin with how the death of Alexander the Great set in motion a number of events that lead to the “miracle” of Hanukah.
Author: Lewis Harrison is an Independent Scholar with a passion for history, personal development, self-improvement, and problem-solving. He is the creator of Harrison’s Applied Game Theory.
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