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Chanukkah (Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration") is the Feast of Dedication (John 10:22), in which Jews since 164 BCE have celebrated the victory of the Maccabees over Antiochus IV, king of Syria. This is the earliest mention of the holiday in all literature and the only mention of it in the Bible, since the Tanakh was completed before that date (the book of Daniel contains prophecy about the event celebrated). The apocryphal books 1, 2, 3, and 4 Maccabees present historical and other perspectives on what happened.

Antiochus, recently defeated in Egypt, expressed his frustration by attacking Judea, ruthlessly slaughtering men, women and children, and invading the Temple. There he carried off the golden altar, menorahs and vessels; and to show his contempt for the God of Israel he sacrificed there a pig to Zeus. He forbade circumcision, observing Shabbat and keeping kosher, and commanded that only pigs be sacrificed in the Temple; he himself cooked a pig in the Temple and poured its broth on the holy Torah scrolls and on the altar.

Syrian officers were dispatched to enforce these cruel and blasphemous decrees. One day when the Syrian officer commanded Mattathias the Maccabee, head of a family of priests (cohanim), to sacrifice a pig, he and his five sons killed the first Jew to comply (see Acts 6:1) and then killed the officer and his soldiers. This was the start of a rebellion. After Mattathias' death his son Judas Maccabeus (about whom Handel wrote his oratorio so named) assembled a number of courageous Jews and led them to victory over the Syrians, first in guerilla warfare, then later in open battle.

On the 25th of Kisley they rededicated the Temple and consecrated a new altar. The 'eternal light' (ner tamid) was relit, but there was only enough consecrated olive oil to keep it burning for one day, and it would take a week to prepare more. By a miracle of God (reported in the book of 2 Maccabees) the light burned for eight days. For this reason Jews celebrate Chanukkah for eight days, starting on Kisley 25, which can fall between November 27 and December 27.

The Bible does not state when Jesus was born, perhaps as a prophylactic against our worshipping the day instead of the One who is worthy. But it is interesting that the early believers in the Messiah apparently saw a link between Chanukkah and the birth day of the Messiah: the one is concerned with an earthly building, the other with the living Temple of God who came down from Heaven – for Jesus himself made the comparison when he said, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again" (John 2:19). So, since the end of the third century December 25, the Roman calendar date corresponding to Kisley 25, has been the generally accepted date for Christmas in the Western churches (the Greek Orthodox observe January 6, the Armenians January 19).

Chanukkah is celebrated using a special Chanukkah menorah with nine lights. One uses a match to light the 'servant' (shammash), and it is then employed to light one candle the first night, two the second, and so on until on the eighth night all eight lights and the 'servant' are burning brightly. For Messianic Jews the imagery is rich: Jesus, the "light of the world" (John 8:12), came as a servant (Mark 10:45) to give light to everyone (John 1:4-5), so that we might be lights to others (Matthew 5:1-14).

Religious Jews recite the hallel, psalms of praise celebrating God's mighty acts on behalf of His chosen people Israel. The text from Psalms 113 through 118, is recited in the morning service throughout the eight days of Chanukkah.