My little boy is in kindergarten. Along with the normal Christmas decorations he has been working on, he came home with a menorah, the candle Jews use to celebrate Hanukkah. (Now that I’m finally out of school myself, I plan to post more frequently–it was a tough semester.)
Today happens to be the first day of Hanukkah. It is a celebration of the freedom of the Jews from the Greeks, which happened in 165 BC. The story is told in the Book of 1 and 2 Maccabees, which is in the Catholic Bible. Jews and Protestants do not consider Maccabees as scripture.
After the exile of the Jews in the days of Jeremiah (around 600 BC), the Jews were dominated by the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Greeks. During the reign of Nehemiah, the temple was rebuilt. It was during the time of Alexander the Great that the land of Israel was conquered by the Greeks. In 175 BCE Antiochus IV Epiphanes was the successor, and he upset the Jews greatly when he attempted to put a statue of Zues there and offer pig sacrifices, among other things.
The Jews revolted under the leadership of Mattathias, and his son Judas Maccabeus, finally being successful in 165 BC. The Jews enjoyed independence for about 100 years, until King Herod led a Roman contingent to conquer Israel again. This is the same Herod who was alive at Jesus birth.
The temple was rededicated, but they only had one days’ worth of oil for the celebration. Miraculously, the lamp stayed lit for 8 days, which was long enough for them to get some more oil. This is why the Menorah has 8 outer candles, and a raised one in the center. The Hanukkah celebration also lasts 8 days.
The re-dedication took place around December, which is why it is so often associated with Christmas. The Jews have a different calendar, based on the Lunar year, and having 12 or 13 months, depending on the calculations. That is why Hanukkah can occur as early as November. All other holidays can similarly change months due to this strange calculation. In essence, the Jews have a leap month every 3, 7, and 10 years to make up for their calendar.