Since a lot of my friends have absolutely no idea what the story of Chanukkah is, I'm going to give it here. Not technically creative writing, I suppose, but... hey, it's my own words. I'll jazz it up a bit.
Now pull up a chair for The Story of Chanukkah.
See, it all began back in the time of Alexander the Great. Alexander was out conquering the known world, and Persia was next on his list. Persia was the big enemy kingdom and, at the time, the most powerful one. But there was this little place called Israel on the way, so Alexander went a'calling.
When he arrived in Jerusalem, the high priest went out to meet him. No sword, no shield... just some books with him. The priest showed Alexander the book of Daniel, and the interpretation of one of Daniel's dreams. Alexander was so pleased that he decided not to try conquering Israel. He had bigger fish to fry.
What was the dream? Well, it spoke of the kingdoms to come. Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome. Each empire would destroy the previous. Since Persia was the power of the time, the interpretations said that Greece would destroy it and become the new world power.
It turned out to be true. Alexander went on to crush Persia and got all the way to the borders of India.
But this is only the prelude. When Alexander the Great died, his empire was split up among his four generals into four kingdoms: Greece, Egypt, Syria, and Persia.
Being formerly generals under the command of the same person, of course they squabbled a lot once the big boss was gone. Unfortunately for Israel, though, it was the only thing in between Egypt and Syria.
While Egypt and Syria fought, their armies were marching back and forth through the land of Israel. Eventually, the Syrians came out ahead, and that is where the story of Chanukkah truly begins.
The king of Syria, by the name of Antiochus, had given himself the title Epiphines, proclaiming himself to be equal to the gods. Fortunately for him, the gods are hard of hearing and he wasn't struck down by lightning. When Antiochus finally drove back Egypt, he advanced and took over the land of Israel.
But Antiochus wasn't about killing and destroying, oh no. He didn't want to kill the Jews. He wanted to assimilate them and turn them into good little Greeks. So he passed some laws, making it illegal to worship on the Sabbath, study the Torah, or not eat unclean animals. (Little side note here, it's not unclean food. The kosher laws separate animals into two groups: clean food and not food. Animals which are not kosher are not even considered food. So this law telling the Jews they had to eat unclean animals was the equivalent of telling someone they were only allowed to eat plywood.) That's where the dreidel comes in. Little top, Hebrew letters on the sides. Jews used the dreidel (svivivon in Hebrew, dreidel is Yiddish) to teach their kids Hebrew. If any Syrian soldiers happened to look in, the parents could just say they were playing a game. And thus was born the world's first edu-tainment.
Anyway... some Jews did assimilate. They were Helenized. Others did not. Of particular importance was a priest by the name of Mattathias. A man sent from Antiochus came and told the people of the town that they had to sacrifice a pig to the Greek gods. Mattathias refused. One Jew, though, stepped forward to make the sacrifice. He never got the chance.
Mattathias drew a sword and killed the man, then killed the messenger sent from Antiochus. He refused to let the Syrians take away his religion and tell him what to do.
Unfortunately, the Syrian army was extremely powerful. Mattathias only had a few men. So what was there to do? He took his sons and those loyal to his cause and fled to the hills. Thus began the first ever instance of guerilla warfare.
Now, Mattathias had some sons. The most famous of these sons was named Judah. Over the course of the warfare with the Syrians, Judah earned a nickname: Maccabee. Of course, that doesn't mean anything until you translate it to English. Judah Maccabee. Judah the Hammer. You really don't want to mess with guys named the Hammer. Except that M.C. guy, but nobody cares about him. Eventually, the entire group came to be known as the Maccabees.
Skipping forward in time. The Maccabees were indeed victorious, and the Syrians were driven out of Israel. But when they arrived in Jerusalem, they found something horrible. The temple had been desecrated. They found pigs sacrificed on the altar, they found messes everywhere, and they found none of the oil needed to light the menorah (seven-branched candelabra for you crazy English speakers). They got to work. The temple was cleaned, they got rid of the pig carcasses and purified the altar, but they couldn't find any oil.
Finally, they found some. Unfortunately, it was only enough oil to keep the menorah lit for a day, and it took eight days to go through the process of making new oil. Still, they lit the menorah and began working on making more oil. Now, that wasn't all they did. It was wintertime, but they decided to celebrate a holiday they hadn't been able to for years due to the Syrian control: Sukkot. This is a fall feast, lasting for eight days. Yet another eight. Must be an important number for this holiday. During this celebration of a late Sukkot, the temple was rededicated. It is from this that the name Chanukkah comes: Chanuk means dedication.
So the second day comes... and the lamp is still lit!
The third day comes... and the lamp is still lit!
The fourth day, the fifth, the sixth, the seventh, the eighth... and the oil is finally ready. Yet that small amount of oil that was only supposed to have lasted for one day managed to last the entire eight days. That is the miracle of Chanukkah. Not the defeat of the Syrians, but that the temple was purified and rededicated, and the sacred oil lasted for the full eight days.
So how do we celebrate Chanukkah today? We give gifts, because it is a joyous celebration of freedom. We light a special nine-branched menorah called a Chanukkiah. Why nine? A central candle called the shamash, or servant, and eight candles for the eight days. It is because of the menorah that Chanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. Another side note here... anyone who reads the gospels might notice that Jesus celebrates Chanukkah. Keep an eye out for him being in Jerusalem during the Festival of Dedication. It's around the time he makes his 'I am the light of the world' speech. Fitting for the season, ne?
What else do we do on Chanukkah? C'mon, it's a Jewish holiday. We eat. Traditional foods are latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil) and sufganyot (fried jelly doughnuts, you haven't tasted donuts until you've eaten sufganyot). There's also Chanukkah gelt (chocolate coins) and� well, anything fried in oil. Oil being a symbol of the holiday, it also factors into the food.
We also play dreidel, a simple game involving a spinning four-sided top.
Consider yourself enlightened (pun intended)!
Now you know... the rest of the story.