At Sundown Tuesday Night 12/12 Jews across the world lit the first candle in celebration of the first night of Chanukah. What most people (even Jews) know about Chanukah is either wrong, half the story, or laden with nice legends. Despite what you may have been told, the meaning of the holiday is not “let’s come up with a holiday around Christmas time so Jewish kids have something to do at the end of December (although a liberal Rabbi once unsuccesfully tried to convince me that was true). Neither is the meaning of Hanukkah “lets come up with a holiday with many different English spellings so we can drive the Gentiles crazy.”
I can’t speak for the other holidays, but I can tell you that as Jewish holidays go, Chanukah is among the least important, unlike the “big ones” like Passover, Sukkot, or Shavuot you can work, drive, etc.
The most common view of the holiday generally includes the miracle of the one day of oil that lasted eight days, the defeat of the superior forces of King Antiochus, the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem, etc.
If you want to know truth, the oil never happened and the battle Judah and won was really a civil war against the Jews who turned away from their faith. Antiochus and his army was there to intervene in the civil war— they just picked the wrong side to support.
Antiochus invaded Judea, at the request of the assimilated Hellenized Jews who were expelled to Syria around 170 BCE when the high priest Onias (a buddy of Cleopatra’s husband Ptolemy) wrested control of the Holy Temple from them. Those exiled assimilated Jews lobbied the King Antiochus to recapture Jerusalem. Judah the Maccabee’s dad Mattathias, a Priest in the town of Modiin started the revolt because the king had issued decrees that forbade Jewish religious practices.
Two hundred years later the failed Judean General-turned traitor-turned historian; Josephus wrote
“The king being thereto disposed beforehand, complied with them, and came upon the Jews with a great army, and took their city by force, and slew a great multitude of those that favored Ptolemy, and sent out his soldiers to plunder them without mercy. He also spoiled the temple, and put a stop to the constant practice of offering a daily sacrifice of expiation for three years and six months.”
Now as far as the holiday goes, Hanukkah is not an important Jewish holiday because like Purim, it was created by rabbis. The command to observe the big holidays such as Passover, Sukkot, or Shavuot is in the Torah which was given to us by God. Since God outranks the rabbis, his holidays are much more important…