Jews light the eight candles on a menorah during Hanukkah to shed a little light on the month which is the darkest.
This year, that celebration began Wednesday evening with the lighting of the first candle.
Hanukkah, like Christmas is a time of sharing with family and friends, a time of giving gifts and cooking special meals.
A menorah is an eight-branched candelabra. Each of the eight evenings during Hanukkah the family gathers to light another candle on the menorah.
Known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication or Feast of the Maccabees, Hanukkah commemorates the restoration and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 BC.
Hanukkah is not a major holiday for Jews, but it is probably the best known among those who are not Jewish, because of its proximity to Christmas.
It begins on the 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev, which, because the Jewish calendar is different than the Gregorian, means the date of Hanukkah varies, but it generally falls in December.
The festival began to celebrate the cleansing of the temple, after the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes, defiled it by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificed pigs there.
His plan was to meld all the people of his kingdom into one body of like-minded subjects. by trying to force the Jews into worshipping Zeus of whom he claimed to be the earthly manifestation.
He also forbade Jews to keep their Sabbath, own copies of their sacred writings or practice circumcision.
When an aged priest named Mattathias was ordered to participate in a sacrifice to Zeus at the village of Modin, he revolted.
With five sons at his side and backed by followers, he took a stand. His son Judas defeated four Syrian armies and forced a fifth to retreat. He was able to recapture Jerusalem, except for a garrisoned castle.
The celebration lasted eight days. According to tradition, only one vessel of pure olive oil, sealed by the high priest and necessary for the rededication ritual, could be found, but that burned miraculously for eight days.
Because the holiday celebrates the fact that the oil in the lamp lasted through the rededication ceremony, the foods shared by Jews often involve frying. Favorites include “latkes” or potato pancakes and “sufganiyot” or jelly-filled donuts.
Chocolate, wrapped to look like gold coins are a favorite gift. Another gift is often a spinning top called a dreidel.