Over two thousand years ago the Jewish people lived in Israel, which was then called Judea. In Judea was the city of Jerusalem where the Jews’ holy temple had been built. Jewish people from all over went to the temple to worship. They often brought gifts to God.
At that time, Antiochus the Fourth, King of Syria, ruled over many small countries, including Judea. Although he collected taxes from the Jews he desired the gifts offered at the temple. But when Antiochus’ soldiers arrived at the temple the High Priest would not allow them to enter. As a result Antiochus forced the Jews to take Greek names, read Greek books, and play Greek sports. He also replaced the high priest with one of his own friends, Menelaus. Through Menelaus, Antiochus began to rob the temple of its gold, gifts, and other treasures.
The Jews managed to force Menelaus out of the temple and regain it for a while. However when Antiochus found out he sent his soldiers to Judea. His army tore down much of the city walls, burned Jewish homes, and sold many Jews into slavery. He placed a statue of Zeus in the temple. He also declared that the Jews could not celebrate the Sabbath or study the Torah.
Antiochus’ soldiers went through out all of Jerusalem forcing Jews to worship statues of Syrian gods. But when the soldiers arrived in the small village of Modi’in a Jewish man named Mattathias refused to worship the Syrian statue. Mattathias, his sons, and many of the people of Modi’in attacked the soldiers. They managed to win and escape into the hills.
Antiochus sent his army after Mattathias and his followers. But the Jews fought fiercely and ran surprise attacks on the Syrians. When Mattathias died his son Judah lead the Jews. As their new leader he was nicknamed the Maccabee, or "hammer", and his followers came to be known as the Maccabees. After many battles the Maccabees won.
When the Maccabees returned to Jerusalem they found the temple in ruins. They smashed the remaining Syrian statues and began to rebuild the temple. As they rebuilt the temple they searched for pure oil to relight the ner tamid, the "light that always burned." They found only one jar of oil, enough to burn for one day. They used this oil to light the ner tamid, but rather than burning for just one day the ner tamid stayed lit for 8 days, enough time to obtain more oil.
On the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev in 164 to 175 B.C.E., the temple was rededicated to God. The Jews celebrated for 8 days and Judah declared that an 8 day holiday called Hanukkah, or "dedication," would be celebrated each year beginning on this day.