Hanuka, the Jewish festival is a tale of religious freedom. It is a festival of light and is celebrated during Winter Solstice. In the second century BC, the Syrians invaded the Jewish lands. It was the time of winter solstice and they restricted their faith by not only ruining the temple of Jerusalem but also extinguishing the light of Menorah that burned in front of the altar.
The Jews were compelled to eat pig meat and worship idols, which their religion forbade. Matthathias, a Jewish high priest was also forced to oblige but he bravely defied. He not only killed the officer but also killed the other soldiers with the aid of his five sons and other villagers.
Later the other Jews joined him in his endeavor and killed the Greek soldiers. But when Judah Maccabee and the soldiers went to the temple they found many things were missing from the temple and the light of the Menorah was also blown off.
Eventually, the Jews restored their temple and rekindled the Menorah with the holy oil that they found. The oil was very little and so they thought that the light would cease in one day. But to their surprise the light burned for eight consecutive days. Therefore, it is popularly known as the eight days of Hanukkah and became a popular festival among the Jews. This courageous victory has been written into a story and restored in the First book of Macabeess.
Celebrating the Festival
The festival is celebrated from the 25th of Kislev according to the Hebrew calendar. The Jews celebrate the Chanukkah festival by lighting the Menorah. The process of lighting is considered the most auspicious ritual of the festival. On the first night one candle is lit and another candle is lit that night and successively the eight candles are lit all the eight days.
The candle stand has nine branches and eight candles are lighted to mark the eight days of the Hanuka festival. The middle candle, known, as the Shamash is a little bigger than the other candles and is used to light the others. People gather round the candle when prayers and blessings are delivered. Maoz Tzur, a traditional song is sung after lighting the candle. Foods are mainly cooked in oil to honor the oil that was burned in the temple. Pancakes and Latkes are the popular foods of this festival.
It is also a tradition to eat fried foods and foods cooked in olive oil, since the festival revolves around the discovering of the flask full of oil. People also love to exchange gifts on this special occasion of the Hanuka festival.