Hanukkah, «HAH nu kah», is the Jewish Feast of Lights or Feast of Dedication. The Hebrew word hanukkah (also written Hannuka or Chanukah) means dedication. The Hanukkah holiday begins on the eve of the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (approximately December) and lasts eight days.
During Hanukkah, gifts are exchanged and contributions made to the poor. On the first evening, one candle is lighted in a special eight-branched candelabrum called a menorahor hanukkiyah. Beginning on the second night, one candle is added every night until the total reaches eight on the last night. The candles are lighted by a separate candle called a shamash.
The two books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha tell the story of Hanukkah. In 165 B.C., after a three-year struggle led by Judah Maccabee, the Jews in Judea defeated the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV. They held festivities in the Temple in Jerusalem, and dedicated it to God.
According to the Talmud, written many centuries after the event, when the Jews cleaned the Temple of Syrian idols, they found only one small cruse (bottle) of oil with which to light their holy menorah. But miraculously, the cruse provided them with oil for eight days. Other sources tell of a torchlight parade in the Temple, which may also have contributed to the tradition of lighting candles on Hanukkah.