The History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, dates back to 167 BCE. The story is based largely off of legend, as few historical details remain.

At the time, the Jews were living in Israel, under the control of the Syrian-Greek king Antiochus Epiphanes. Antiochus' reign brought with it a violent attempt to force the Jews in the kingdom to assimilate to Greek cultural norms.

The breaking point came in 165 BCE, when Antiochus placed an altar to Zeus in the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A group of brothers, called the Maccabees, led a revolt against Antiochus and liberated the temple, getting rid of the idols that Antiochus had installed there.

When the Maccabees took the temple, they cleansed it, building a new altar to replace the old one. The menorah was to be lit and stay lit continuously through the night, but there was only enough olive oil to last a single day.

Miraculously, the single day's worth of oil burned over the course of 8 days, long enough for new oil to be brought to the temple so the menorah could stay lit, and the temple was rededicated to Judaism.

Upon the temple's rededication, the Maccabees decided to celebrate (belatedly) the harvest festival of Sukkot — due to Antiochus' having defiled the temple, the temple had been unusable for that year's Sukkot. They then instituted an annual winter holiday to commemorate the rededication of the temple and the miracle of the oil.

The oil plays a big role in the traditional foods of Hanukkah; foods cooked in oil (often olive oil, but chicken fat in parts of Eastern Europe where olives were hard to come by) are a major part of the celebration.

The two mainstays of Hanukkah food are the latke (a potato pancake fried in oil) and sufganiot (oil-fried jelly donuts).

Keep Reading

Next Up

What Are Capers?

Capers are the pickled flower buds of a thorny, trailing shrub that grows like a weed all over the Mediterranean.

How to Fry Donuts and Potato Pancakes

The Food Network Kitchen shares tips and techniques for frying Hanukkah sufganiyots and latkes.

Top 5 Hanukkah Recipes

Mark this special Hanukkah with a slight twist on traditional potato latkes and a full feast of Hanukkah dishes, both new and classic.

Best 5 Hanukkah Recipes

No Menorah lighting is complete without a few snacks to mark the occasion. This year, switch up tradition and serve a few of our top five Hanukkah recipes.

Hanukkah: The Food and Traditions

Learn more about the Jewish Festival of Lights and the traditional foods prepared in celebration.

8 Ways to Win Hanukkah

Here are eight ways to show some love for the Festival of Lights — one for each crazy night.

Lotsa Latkes, Just in Time for Hanukkah

These classic and creative latke recipes are the ones to make during the Festival of Lights — or year-round.

Fried Food for Every Crazy Night of Hanukkah

Fry your way through the festival of lights.

How to Dress Up Latkes for Hanukkah

Latkes are just fried potatoes, so they’re basically a blank canvas of crispy deliciousness. Pick any of our top latke recipes and try a new topping this year.