Hannukah starts today, and I must say the total lack of Hannukah parties and gifts and parades makes me think the local Jews are really dropping the ball here! After all, this holiday has had a couple hundred years' head start on Christmas--that's plenty of time to invent a jolly fictional character to hand out toys, and co-opt some pagan rituals and decorations.
The holiday originates from the days when the Greeks (as remnants of Alexander the Terrific's empire) were running Judaea (in present-day Israel), and lots of Jews assimilated by taking on Greek culture. Presumably, this meant eating gyros and wearing lots of gold chains and colognes and owning diners on the Interstate. After all, gotta do what's popular! But a group of super-religious Jews rejected that, and went by the name "the Maccabes" which is Hebrew for "screw this gyro crap and pass me a bagel". The Maccabes fought the Greeks and the assimilated Jews, and took over the big temple in Jerusalem, then decided to light up some lamp action. Of course they only had oil for one day, but by divine miracle--or failing to measure the oil properly in the first place, either way--the oil burned for eight days. It was such a great time for celebration that the Maccabes said "from this day forth, we shall celebrate Hannukah, and never see it be overshadowed by some upstart religion's big winter-time holiday".
Today, Jews around the world (though let's face it, mostly just the American Jews) celebrate Hannukah tonight and for the next eight nights, by lighting the menorah and spinning the dradle and looking for a good Chinese place to eat on Christmas. Happy Hannukah!
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