The holiday of Hanukkah marks the victory of the Hasmoneans (also known as the Maccabees) in the revolt against the Seleucid Empire, a Hellenistic state that existed in western Asia during the Second Temple period. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days beginning on the 25th of Kislev. Unlike most Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Torah, but was added by the sages in the days of the Second Temple. The earliest sources which mention the holiday and the events of the rebellion are the First Book of Maccabees and the Second Book of Maccabees, which were written not long after and are considered relatively reliable as historical sources. The events were also described by the historian Josephus in "Antiquities of the Jews" in the first century AD. A different version of the events appears in a later text known as the Scroll of Antiochus
The Hasmonean victory provided a number of reasons for celebration: It brought about the end of the decrees imposed by the Hellenists against observance of the Jewish commandments and the purification of the Temple once more allowed the free practice of a Jewish way of life. This rededication of the Temple is likely the source of the holiday's name - hanukkah meaning "dedication" in Hebrew. In addition, the end of Greek rule restored Jewish rule, another cause for celebration, though this would not last for very long.
There are several possible explanations for the festival lasting eight days. One is that the victory over the Seleucids was celebrated for eight days to make up for the festival of Sukkot which had not been celebrated that year. Another theory is that the eight days of Hanukkah symbolize the eight days over which the Tabernacle was consecrated and dedicated in the wilderness of Sinai.
The most well-known explanation for the length of the holiday, however, is the famous story of the miracle of the cruse of oil. The story appears in different sources, including the Babylonian Talmud and the Scroll of Antiochus, yet it does not appear in the Books of Maccabees or in Antiquities of the Jews. According to this story, upon entering the Temple, the Hasmoneans found only one cruse, or jug, of pure oil that would ordinarily have sufficed to light the Temple Menorah for only one night, yet it miraculously lasted for eight.
The Order of the Hanukkah Candle Lighting
Lighting eight candles is the holiday’s main commandment. To spread the word about the miracle, the menorah, also called a hanukkiah, is placed at the entrance to the house or in a window. The commandment is fulfilled by lighting only one candle each evening, but it is customary to light an additional candle on each of the holiday's nights. Hence, on the first evening, one candle is lit, on the second evening—two candles, and so on, until on the last evening eight candles are lit.
Due to the Hanukkah candles’ sanctity, they may not be used for any utilitarian purpose. Hanukkah candles, for example, cannot be used for lighting or transferring fire. It is therefore customary to light another candle (the shamash) for this purpose. The location of the shamash on the menorah is distinguished from the other eight candles