Is Hanukkah about the story of light or the history of might?
Hanukkah is not a Holy Day (an ordained observance). All legal secular activities such as working and attending school are permitted. There are communal celebrations, but most of the celebration occurs within the family.
“54 At the very season and on the very day that the nations had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. 55 All the people fell on their faces and worshiped and blessed heaven, who had prospered them. 56 So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. 57 They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests and fitted them with doors. 58 There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the nations was removed.
59 Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.”
Some observers of Hanukkah place great emphasis on lighting the Hanukkiah (Hanukkah menorah), a nine-branched menorah. This is in commemoration of the legend of the small amount of oil that miraculously lasted for eight days. Candles are lit each of the eight nights to celebrate this miracle. There is no mention of the oil miracle in the account given in 1 Maccabees when the proclamation was made.
1 Maccabees 4: 49—59; “They made new vessels, burned incense, and the lamps that were on the candlestick they lighted, that they might give light in the temple…. They decked the front of the temple with crowns of gold and with shields...thus was there very great gladness among the people for the reproach of the heathen was put away… the whole congregation of Israel ordained, that the days of the dedication of the altar should be kept in their season from year to year by the space of eight days…”
It appears that if the miracle of the oil occurred, it was not the basis for the Hanukkah celebration. The eight-day celebration was declared by the congregation to commemorate the Maccabees’ miraculous success in defeating the “Superpowers” of the time and reclaiming what was rightfully theirs.
The history of Hanukkah teaches us to stand up for our convictions and to challenge those who vigorously oppose them.
Hanukkah is the “Feast of Dedication.”
To commemorate this victory on a congregational level, the place is decorated with items such as crowns, menorah and shields. The reading of the event is often dramatized and explained. A portion of the day is dedicated to a joyful rededication service involving songs, Psalms, poetry, praise and motivational words for congregants to be introspective. This is also a special time when gifts, in kind or cash, are brought up for the upkeep of the temple. A secular social gathering with fun, food and fellowship follows.