Today at sundown, Hanukkah begins! For those of you who may be wondering what it’s all about, I searched around for a reader-friendly (i.e. NOT BORING) explanation, and found one courtesy of Ed Cohen:

Hanukkah celebrates a victory of the Jewish people, in 165 B.C.E. The battle was between Judah and his Maccabee army against the Syrian-Greek oppressors, led by Antiochus. Antiochus’ objective was to destroy the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Judah’s small group revolted to protect the Temple and achieve religious freedom.

Lighting Hanukkah candles — each night of the eight day holiday — one candle the first night, two the second, etc. — commemorates the following legendary event:

The Temple, as do all synagogues now, had a lamp burning in front of the ark or cabinet that holds the Torah scrolls. It is supposed to be lit all the time. The story goes that, after Antiochus was defeated, there was a shortage of oil for this lamp, i.e., only one day’s supply. Miraculously, it is said, the oil lasted for a full eight days until an additional supply of oil could be procured. Hence, the eight days of candle lighting.

Ed did a pretty good job, in my opinion. What I would add is that the word Hanukkah means “dedication”, and the holiday was named accordingly because the temple was rededicated after it was rebuilt. The reason Antiochus destroyed it in the first place was because he was trying to make the Jews follow the religion of the Greeks rather than their own. The overall theme of the holiday is religious freedom, which–and I think you’ll agree no matter what or who you pray to–is a very important, valuable, and special thing.

Hanukkah is actually a VERY minor Jewish holiday, and although Jewish children everywhere have, for ages, boasted to their non-Jewish friends about their “8 days of presents”, the gift-giving is not actually related to the origin of the holiday but rather a modern-day response to the “December Dilemma”, which I’ll post about hopefully later this week.

In my own family, we do gifts but normally not anything outlandish or “crazy”, budget-wise. One night of Hanukkah every year is always reserved for a special family activity in place of actual gifts. Normally it’s a movie but we’ve done other things.

I’ll post more about it as the week goes on, but for now, here’s a gift for you: Adam Sandler!

Have a happy, happy, happy, happy Hanukkah!