I kinda feel the need to summarize Chanukah because there are also people I’ve met who don’t know what this is all about. And also, tomorrow is Chanukah, so there’s that too.
Chanukah, also known as Hanukkah, Chanukkah, or as I like to call it, “Why Did Grandma Send Me a Check This W—OH SHIT IT’S CHANUKAH” is basically yet another celebration of the fact that the Jewish people have somehow not gotten wiped off the face of the earth … again. ‘Cause basically, all Jewish holidays fall into one of two categories: the ones about us almost being driven to extinction or the ones about us frantically trying to apologize to God for whatever we did during the year.
IN ANY CASE, Chanukah was basically the Greeks’ fault this time around. See, a long, long time ago, the Greeks said to themselves, “Those Jewish people, man. How can you have an entire religion with only one god—and one who doesn’t even have the decency to literally fuck everything that moves, no less?” So they did what any vaguely European person did back in the day: they suppressed the shit out of Jewish culture. No worshipping unless you’re worshipping Greek gods, no cutting off of the foreskins, the whole nine yards.
Understandably, the Jewish people were kinda pissed off about this because “wtf did you fucking read the Talmud, dude? Do you know what our god does when he’s pissed off?” So they take to worshipping in secret, and whenever the Greek soldiers came around and found them, they’d hide their holy texts and start messing around with a top while pretending to gamble (because that’s not quite as unholy as worshipping a single god, apparently), and congratulations you now know why the dreidel is a thing.
But the rest of the story goes like this: the Greeks invaded the temple, which pissed off the Jewish people even more because “omg seriously read the fucking Old Testament guys. At least your gods just turn you into animals. THAT IS A FUCKING SLAP ON THE WRIST COMPARED TO WHAT OURS WOULD DO.”
So because this was obviously not okay with the Jewish nation as a hole, this guy named Maccabee and his brothers were all like, “Okay, yeah, no, let’s just form a goddamn militia and go all Call of Duty on these guys until they go away.” So they go around and convince other Jewish people that this is totally a good time to go prehistorically medieval on some Greek ass. Long story short, though, Maccabee succeeds in raising his army and hell in the temple (no pun intended), and this whole action sequence ends with probably the only time one of our holidays involved the Jewish people doing the stabbing. (Because, y'know, typically we just kinda let God do that part.)
Now here’s the part where the whole Festival of Lights thing happens. Inside the temple, there was this candelabra that was used for ceremonies. After the Greeks were kicked out of the temple and punted out of the country, the Jewish people wanted to reconsecrate the temple, and lighting candles is kinda an important part of that. The problem was that the Greeks were absolute dicks because they went around and opened up all of the oil, but in order to use the oil for religious purposes, you need it to be untouched and rabbinically sealed. Because, y'know, who the fuck knows what you did to that oil. You do not trust a bunch of dudes with your holy stuff. That’s like trusting a bunch of nine-year-olds with a $50000 vase.
But then, one of the Maccabees found a single canister of oil that was still sealed shut, and he was like, “Dude. We have oil! We’re set!”
But then everyone else was probably like, “Uh, bro, that’s just one canister. That won’t even last the night.”
But then he said, “Nah, brah. Just watch. It’ll burn for, like, eight nights or something messed up like that.”
AND IT FUCKING DID.
So we consider it a fucking miracle that: A) the Greeks managed to not pee into exactly one canister of oil and B) this single canister of oil managed to burn night and day for eight nights.
But if you think this story kinda sounds anticlimactic, it’s probably because it actually is. Chanukah is only a minor holiday, which means it’s a lot like the Flag Day or Labor Day of the Jewish calendar. You don’t fucking care about Flag Day, do you? Do you even know when Flag Day happens? That’s the level of importance Chanukah used to have for the Jewish people.
What changed is the fact that Christmas is a thing. Because Christmas is fucking everywhere, and it’s a well-established fact that Christians get presents for their messiah’s birthday. And not only do they get presents, but they get sparkly things and TV specials and entire books of songs and the whole nine yards. So somewhere along the line, the Jewish kids were like, “Wow, this really fucking sucks. Why can't we get presents?” And meanwhile, the marketing executives were like, “Wow, this really fucking sucks. We can’t sell anything to the Jewish kids, and they’re, like, some kind of percentage of our population.” So somewhere along the line, someone noticed that Chanukah happened in the vague, nebulous ballpark of Christmas, so they were like, “Jesus Christ (possibly pun intended), we should market the shit out of this.”
And so, what was once a minor Jewish holiday became a major one because it happened around Christmas, and the thing you should probably take away from this for your own sake is the knowledge that Chanukah is a popularized holiday because it’s mimicking a Christian holiday that’s mimicking a pagan one. Because Western religions are sometimes train wrecks, and it’s amazing.
But in the meantime, have some Adam Sandler.