חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah) (alternately spelled Chanukah), meaning "dedication" in Hebrew, refers to the joyous eight-day celebration during which Jews commemorate the victory of the Maccabees over the armies of Syria in 165 B.C.E. and the liberation and "rededication" of the Temple in Jerusalem. The modern home celebration of חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah) centers around the lighting of the חַנֻכִּיָּה (hanukkiyah), a special menorah for חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah); foods prepared in oil including latkes (potato pancakes) and סוּפְגָנִיוֹת (sufganiyot) (jelly doughnuts); and special songs and games.
During the time of the 2nd Temple, the Holy Land was ruled by cruel Greeks. They robbed the Jews of their property, and set up idols in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple. No one could stand up against them, till Mattityahu and his sons rose up and drove them from the land. The חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah) lights remind us of the great miracle that a small band of Jews defeated the mighty Greek armies.
The Greeks were philosophers. They accepted the תּוֹרָה (Torah) as a book of wisdom, but not as something holy that connects us to God. In the end, they made תּוֹרָה (Torah) learning illegal, and outlawed מִצְוֹת (Mitzvot) like שַׁבָּת(Shabbat), ראש חוֹדֶש (Rosh Chodesh - celebrating the new month), בְּרִית מִילָה (Brit Milah), and the holiness of Jewish marriage. The Maccabees risked their lives to keep תּוֹרָה (Torah) alive! That’s why they won!
An even greater miracle than defeating the Greek armies was the miracle of the oil. The Greeks had made all the oil in the Temple impure. Miraculously, the Maccabees found one jar that had been overlooked. But it only had enough oil for one day. So great was their love of God, that they lit it anyway! God made another miracle, and the oil burned for eight days! Everyone could see that God's Presence dwelt with the Jews.
חֲנֻכָּה (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 Second Book of the Maccabees, which quotes from a letter sent around 125 BCE from the Hasmoneans to the leaders of the Egyptian Jewish community, the holiday is called “The festival of סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) celebrated in the month of Kislev,” rather than Tishrei. Since the Jews were still in caves fighting the Asyrian Greeks when סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) was supposed to be celebrated in the month of Tishrei that year, they could not properly honor the eight-day holiday of סֻכּוֹת (Sukkot) (and Shemini Atzeret), which is a Temple holiday; so it was postponed until after the recapture of Jerusalem and the purification of the Temple.
potato pancakes (latkes) - לְבִיבוֹת
jelly donuts - סוּפְגַנִיוֹת
re-dedication - חֲנֻכָּה
dreidel/top - סְבִיבוֹן
Each night of חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah) we add another candle to our חַנֻכִּיָּה (hanukkiyah) and sing these two בְּרָכוֹת (blessings).
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל חֲנֻכָּה.
Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav,
v'tzivanu l'hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through the commandments and commands us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, שֶׁעָשָׂה נִסִּים לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ בַּיָּמִים הָהֵם בַּזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, she'asa nisim la'avoteinu
bayamim hahem bazman hazeh.
Blessed are You, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe
who made miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time of year.
On the first night of חֲנֻכָּה (Hanukkah) we add this special blessing:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם ֿ שֶׁהֶחֱיָנוּ וְקִיְּמָנוּ וְהִגִּיעָנוּ לזְּמַן הַזֶּה.
Baruch Ata ADONAI Eloheinu Melech ha'olam, she'he'che'yanu v'ki'yemanu v'higianu
Blessed are you, ADONAI, our God, Ruler of the universe, who has given us life, sustained us, and helped us to reach this moment.