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. after it was defiled by a pagan ruler.
Let us now delve into a little more detail into the 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.
Antiochus orders, in 167 B.C., that a pagan altar be placed inside the temple in Jerusalem that is dedicated to the false god Zeus. Unclean animals like pigs are brought to the new altar and sacrificed. Right after this occurs a man named Mattathias, who is a descendant of Israel's first High Priest, 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 (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 eight days. This period was the same as the time it took to prepare and dedicate new oil for the Temple.
Hanukkah is a beautiful time. Many years ago, the following letter appeared in a Toronto, Canada newspaper.
"It strikes me as odd, how quickly the Christmas spirit turns on just after Halloween, and turns off on January 2nd. Perhaps Christmas has just become an excuse to do, once a year, what we should be doing all year round: be charitable, connect with friends, and live life -- have a good time. I guess I'm saying that I do enjoy the fringe benefits of Christmas without participating. The lights are lovely, the music joyous, the giving admirable. But it is nice to come home to the simplicity of the Chanukah candles." (Neilia Sherman, Psychiatric social worker, North York, Ontario, Canada)
There is nothing wrong with celebrating Hanukkah, any more than it is wrong for people to celebrate a Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the holiday might be considered a Jewish thanksgiving festival. If you want to celebrate it, find a family who would be willing to share their festival with you. Interestingly, although it is only mentioned once in the Bible, the eight-day festival is the backdrop of one of the nastiest confrontations Jesus had with the Jews.
22. Now it was winter, and the feast of dedication was taking place at Jerusalem. 23. And Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon's porch. 24. Then the Jews encircled Him and said to Him, "How long are You going to hold us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly" (John 10:22 - 24, HBFV throughout)
The Jews knew Jesus was going to be at the festival and seized upon this opportunity to confront him regarding the claim that he was the Messiah. After a brief discussion, Jesus stated that He and the heavenly Father are One. After hearing what he said the Jews, well aware of what Jesus' statement meant, began to hurriedly gather stones in order to immediately STONE HIM TO DEATH (John 10:31)!
The Jews then said to Jesus, after he asked why they wanted to kill him, "We will not stone You for a good work, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, are making Yourself God" (John 10:33). Because it was not yet his time to suffer death, Jesus was soon able to escape the wrath of the Jews unharmed (verse 39) during the time we now know as Hanukkah.