Hanukkah is probably the Jewish holiday with which non-Jews are most familiar. While it is celebrated close to Christmas, it historically predates Christmas and is a very different celebration.
OK, so, we need to get some background reading for the history behind Chanukah/Hanukkah. For this, we’ll first look to 1 Maccabees. The book is considered Deuterocanonical scripture by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, while the Protestant tradition and modern-day Judaism hold it as an Apocryphal book. In any case, the events recounted are corroborated by other historical records. This book was originally written in Hebrew–we know this because of the Hebrew idioms that are translated in the text, although we don’t have any original manuscripts still in existence. What we do have are Greek manuscripts and translations. So, let’s look at an English translation (if you want Greek, let me know).
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian-Greek rulers of Jerusalem and (most importantly) the subsequent re-dedication of the Temple in 165 B.C.E. We’re going to follow the story of Judas Maccabeus, who (along with his father and brothers) led the resistance against the Hellenization of the Jews. The story climaxes at the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he offered to Zeus sacrifices which were abominations according to Jewish law. Ready?
I’m going to link to the New American Bible, NAB, since it is available online.
Introduction to the Book
1. Introduction: Hellenism in Asia Minor (1 Macc 1:1-9)
2. The Maccabean Revolt (1 Macc 1:10–2:70)
3. Leadership of Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 3:1–9:22)