20 Facts You Probably Didn’t Know About Hanukkah

Happy Hanukkah, one and all! The Festival of Lights is almost upon us, but what exactly is the Jewish holiday? We’re glad you asked! The eight-day celebration commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, which occurred in the second century B.C. after the Maccabees revolted following its desecration by their Syrian-Greek oppressors.

Hanukkah is actually a lesser holiday in the Jewish tradition, but because it generally falls around the same time as Christmas each year, in modern culture, it’s become almost as big a celebration, because, hey, we’re big fans of getting presents too. In 2020, Hanukkah begins at sundown on Thursday, Dec. 10, and lasts through sundown on Friday, Dec. 18.

There’s a lot to know about not just the history of why we celebrate Hanukkah but also how it came to the forefront in not just the United States but Jewish households around the world. So, let us present you with 20 facts you may not have known about Hanukkah (and some you may know but provide excellent background, because we want to make you proud). 

1. Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, don’t worry about it — they’re all right. These are all English transliterations for the Hebrew word, which means as long as you’re pronouncing it right, you’re A-OK.

2. The word “Hanukkah” translates to dedication, which also helps explain the holiday. Each year, Hanukkah marks the rededication of the second temple in Jerusalem, when the Maccabees stood up against Antiochus and reclaimed the temple from the Greeks. Here’s what led to that: Judea, or the Land of Israel, fell under control of the Seleucid king of Syria, Antiochus III, around 200 B.C. He let the Jews who were living there continue to practice their religion, but his son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was way less cool, outlawing Judaism and demanded that the Jews worship Greek gods instead. A rebellion broke out, and though it took two years, Judah Maccabee, son of the priest Mattathias, helped lead the Syrians out of Jerusalem, aka the Maccabean Revolt. His followers then rebuilt and rededicated the temple.  

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