Hanukkah is the festival of lights. The eight day holiday celebrates the re-dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E. by the Maccabees, following a successful revolt against the Hellenist Syrians. Returning to the defiled Temple and facing the daunting task of restoring it to its former glory, the Jews found only enough pure oil to light the menorah for one day. Miraculously, the flame remained lit for eight days, just enough time to find more oil to maintain the fire.
Hanukkah is on the 25th of Kislev which usually falls in December.
Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting candles on a menorah. Each night one more candle is lit at sundown. It is a festive holiday with lots of celebrating.
All the traditional foods for Hanukkah revolve around oil, remembering the discovery of a single vessel of pure olive oil that burned miraculously for eight days. The two most traditional foods are Potato Latkes and Jelly Doughnuts (sufganiyot).
Some also serve dairy on Hanukkah because of Judith/Yehudit.
It happens that there was a really spunky lady who is said to have lived at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks. She was a young widow whose name was Yehudit, and she had a strong stomach. When her village was under siege and succumbing to starvation, she and her maid went to the commander of the Greek troops, pretending to give him valuable information about how and when to take the town. She charmed the general into trusting her over the course of several days, finally showing up with a “victory gift” of salty cheese, and wine – lots of wine. Anticipating an easy battle the next day, the general lustily dug into the cheese and chased it with drink after drink of her strong wine. After he collapsed in a drunken stupor, she took his sword, beheaded him, and quickly made her way back to her village (with his head!) When the Greek troops reported to the general’s tent in the morning, they found the headless body of their leader and fled in panic.
So to honor this heroine, we eat dairy foods on Haukkah, like the cheese she fed the unsuspecting general. Just watch how much wine you drink afterward. You never know.