What is HANUKKAH?
Question: What IS Hanukkah? What does it celebrate? Is there anything wrong with a Christian celebrating the holiday? What does the Bible say about it?
Answer: Hanukkah (which in Hebrew means 'to dedicate') is also referred to as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. It is a holiday, lasting eight days, that celebrates the rededication of Jerusalem's temple in 164 B.C.
Here is a brief history of Hanukkah. In 175 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes becomes ruler of the Seleucid Empire. His goal is to unite the Greek-related elements of his empire and to FORCE, if necessary, those who do not live based on the Greek culture (e.g. Judea) to do so.
He orders, in 167 B.C., that a pagan altar dedicated to the false god Zeus be placed inside the temple in Jerusalem. Unclean animals like pigs are ordered to be brought to the new altar and sacrificed. Right after this occurs a man named Mattathias, a priest who serves in the temple, begins a revolt against the Seleucids by refusing to worship the Greek gods forced on Judea by Antiochus.
Although Mattathias soon dies after the revolt starts, his son Judas assumes his dad's leadership role and continues the rebellion as its military commander. He is so zealous and ferocious in battle that he earns the name Judas Maccabaeus (or Judah the Maccabee), which when translated means "Judah the Hammer."
Judas eventually leads the people to a stunning victory over the Seleucids. He enters Jerusalem after Judea wins back its independence. He has the pagan altar erected by the Seleucids removed from the temple, has the temple itself religiously purified, and restores the worship of the true God. The rededication of Jerusalem's temple happens on the twenty-fifth day Kislev (or Chislev, which is roughly our month of December). Tradition states that although only one day worth of oil can be found for the Temple's menorah (which burned all through the night), it somehow burns for a total of 8 days. This period was the same as the time it took to prepare and dedicate new oil for the Temple.