Today marks the start of Ḥanukkah, the Jewish eight-day Festival of Lights! Hanukkah commemorates the re- dedication of the temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. Now, from what I understand, Judaism had been outlawed, and the Maccabees had revolted and won back their temple. As they prepared the Temple they found that nearly all of the holy olive oil had been destroyed, except for one single container. The olive oil was needed for the menorah which was required by the Torah to burn all night, every night.... One container would only last one night and it would take 8 days to make and prepare new oil. The oil was lit anyways, and miraculously, it lasted the entire eight days! As such, the Jewish elders declared an eight day festival to mark this miracle.
During Hanukkah, the lighting of candles is important - it honours the miracle in the Temple and also marks the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, etc. A Menorah has 8 candles for the 8 nights (plus one extra that is used to light the others), and one is lit each night of Hanukkah until the last night. Special prayers are said, and often Hanukkah hymns are sung. It is a family time (much like Christmas in that regard) and families gather, eat special Hanukkah foods (often foods and treats prepared in olive oil - I've always wanted to try latkes, little potato pancakes cooked in olive oil!), and children receive 'gelt' or gifts of money... even nightly, I believe! They also play the dreidel - a little spin top with Jewish symbols on the sides. Each child has a stash of treats, and depending on the symbol that shows when they spin the top, they must either give or take a certain amount of treats to or from the pot. Sounds like fun to me!
One of my favorite songs this time of year is 'Oh, Chanukah! Oh, Chanukah!'. The Barenaked Ladies did a version of it a few years back. Check it out - it is a catchy tune!
To all my Jewish friends and readers - May the lights of Hanukkah bring you joy, peace and good fortune. Happy Hanukkah!