Beginning on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 2, and ending on the evening of Monday, Dec. 10, Jewish people all over the world will be celebrating Hanukkah (spelled various ways, Hanukah and Chanukah are also popular,) a holiday of history, legend, miracles and inspiration.

Also known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, Jews celebrate Hanukkah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil.

According to the Hanukkah story, after the death of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was split in two. Slowly, Jews returned and the Greeks arrived conquering lands including Egypt and Israel. King Alexander the Great was a benevolent ruler and blended Greek religion and Eastern philosophy.

This culture of Hellenism was embraced by many in the Jewish community. Some Jews felt the Hellenism and Greek values were not consistent with Judaism. After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided and new government decrees limited the practice of Judaism. Violations were punishable by death. Greek symbols were placed inside the holy Temple.

By 167 B.C.E. the Greek King, Antiochus banned the practice of Judaism, with the punishment of death to all who defied the orders. Mattathias and his five sons were known as the “Maccabees” (means men as strong as hammers). Though much smaller in number than the well-armed Greek armies, the Jewish forces under the command of Judah Maccabee ultimately recaptured the Temple Mount.

The miracle of Hanukkah revolves around the rededication of the Temple Menorah. At the time, there was only enough oil to last one day. The small quantity of oil burned for eight days. To celebrate this miracle, Jews now celebrate Hanukkah for eight days every year.

While Hanukkah is considered a “minor” Jewish festival, it ranks — along with Passover and Purim — as one of the most beloved Jewish family holidays.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman of Temple B’nai Chaim calls Hanukkah, “a beautiful holiday.”

“The hero of the Hanukkah story, Judah Maccabee, fought bravely to ensure that the Jewish people would be able to worship safely,” she said. “The light that we create with our menorahs symbolizes the light of religious freedom and reminds us of our responsibility to work hard so that all people can enjoy freedom of belief.”