The Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins at sundown Tuesday.
In Hebrew, the word hanukkah means dedication The name commemorates the re-dedication of the holy temple in Jerusalem after the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C.E, according to about.com
In 168 B.C.E. the temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. Later, the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death and also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods.
Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem. Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, among other commands forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattathias, a high priest, to acquiesce to their demands, but he refused.
Mattathias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews who wanted to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees.
Once the Maccabees had regained control, they returned to the temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine.
Purifying the temple would take burning ritual oil in the temple’s menorah for eight days, but there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the temple. They lit the menorah anyway, and the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days. That’s the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year.
Every community has its special Hanukkah traditions, but some of them are almost universally practiced. They include lighting the special menorah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods such as latkes.