10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hanukkah

The Festival of Lights is celebrated for eight crazy nights


The letters on the dreidel are the initials of "A great miracle happened there."

Hanukkah is one of the most popular (and fun) Jewish holidays, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Jewish person who doesn’t observe it in one way or another. Because seriously, what’s not to love? You light the menorah, sing some songs, spin a dreidel, eat potato pancakes, and open presents. But even if you can’t wait to decorate your annual Hanukkah bush, we bet that there’s a lot you didn’t know about this beloved holiday.

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Hanukkah (Slideshow)

For such a lighthearted holiday, Hanukkah has some serious origins. It celebrates the victory of a small Jewish rebel army called the Maccabees over the Seleucid (Syrian Greek) Empire. In 168 BC, the Second Temple in Jerusalem was looted by the Seleucids under the direction of King Antiochus IV, who had Jews massacred and outlawed their religion. Adding insult to injury, he slaughtered pigs on the temple’s altar and built an altar to Zeus inside it. This sparked a huge revolt, led by a Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons, the most famous of whom was Judah “The Hammer” Maccabee, who took over as leader after his father’s death. In 165 BC, under the leadership of Judah, the Jews retook the Temple and restored it to its former glory. There was just one problem: in order to fully bring it back online, a menorah had to be kept burning throughout every night, but only one day’s supply of kosher olive oil was found. As legend has it, that oil burned for eight full nights anyway, long enough for a new batch of oil to be made.

Every year, Jews around the world celebrate the retaking of the Temple from the Seleucids, honoring the sacrifices of the Maccabean rebels and lighting a menorah for eight nights to commemorate the miracle. You can be forgiven if you thought that Hanukkah was just an excuse to open some presents, but the story behind the holiday is indeed pretty awesome. Now that we think about it, we’re surprised that it hasn’t been made into a movie yet (though Mel Gibson, of all people, has been trying to get a project about the Maccabeean Revolt going for years, thus far unsuccessfully).


Here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about Hanukkah.