Chanukah is a holiday commemorating a miracle that occurred between the times recorded in the Old and the New Testament (erroneously mistaken as the ‘silent times’).
Chanukah, also known as the Feast of Dedication (of the Temple), is recorded as being celebrated by Jesus in the New Testament as well, making it a holiday Christians too may celebrate and enjoy. (John 10:22)
To understand Chanukah, which has many spelling options as it is transliterated from Hebrew (spelled as it sounds since the language has a different alphabet), one must go all the was back to Alexander the Great who conquered much of the area surrounding Israel, then died. The vast amounts of captured territory were given to 4 generals, then one was split to include a 5th general. These were ruled somewhat peacefully for a while, until an egomaniac, who named himself Antiochus Epiphenius (god on earth) decided to conquer the other four kingdoms.
Antiochus ruled the Seleucids to the north of Israel and had to travel through Israel to get to the other kingdoms. Now Israel was in an odd position… When Alexander approached Israel the religious leaders met him and showed him prophecies in the Old Testament that appeared to be about him. Alexander assumed this meant that the Israelites were surrendering to him and left. The Israelites assumed that God had saved them through this revelation and believed themselves to be free. Israel paid tribute occasionally after this and everyone was happy.
Antiochus comes through, desecrates the Temple by sacrificing a pig on the altar and destroying everything, including the jars of oil, and tells the Jewish people that they are to worship him. He then sends his troops throughout the countryside to desecrate the Jewish altars that exist in the remote regions. (I know there was only supposed to be one altar, but if you read the Old Testament carefully you will see that the people rarely fully obeyed this rule.) At one altar a priest, Matthias, either pretended he was going to sacrifice the pig and instead attacked the soldiers, or attacked the soldiers while the pig was going to be sacrificed (the accounts I have read differ). In either case, one old priest, who dies of natural causes within the next year, kills a group of trained soldiers. His sons lead the uprising. This is known as the Maccabean Revolt and his son, Judah, is credited as the leader. Maccabee, loosely translated, means ‘strong hammer’ as the Jewish people were short on swords and used whatever they had to fight.
The Jewish people did not have an easy time winning. The turning point of the war came when they were facing the bulk of the enemy army and a young widow, named Judith, snuck into the enemy camp as a camp prostitute with a basket of salted cheese and wine. She entered the enemy commander’s tent, got him well drunk, cut off his head, put it into her basket and returned to the Jewish camp. There she gave the head to the Jewish commander, who presented it to the enemy. This disheartened the troops, and the Jewish people were victorious.
After winning the war, the Jewish priests went to cleanse the Temple. When they entered the Temple, they discovered that there was only one jar of oil to light the menorah, enough for one day. The menorah is needed to light the Temple as the Temple has no windows, but rather the golden walls reflect the light of the menorah inside. It takes 8 days to purify more oil in the manner prescribed for Temple use. As they were motivated to clean the Temple, they began the work immediately. Miraculously the oil lasted all eight days until the new oil was ready and the Temple was cleansed.
Chanukah therefore commemorates not only the miracle of the oil that allowed the Temple to be properly cleansed, but also a victory from oppression.
Remember, the Jewish people could have tried to use oil not prepared properly, inciting God’s wrath. Or, they could have waited to cleanse the Temple. Instead they were fervent in their dedication to the things of God, and did not wish to wait one second more than necessary to begin to honor Him. God saw their commitment and honored them with a miracle that let them know that He was indeed with them. A very personal miracle, showing that God blesses the desires of our hearts in small ways, such as oil lasting longer than it should, as well as large ways, such as the parting of the Red Sea.