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The Hebrew word Chanukah means "inauguration." In the 2nd century BCE, the time of the Second Holy Temple, the Syro-Greek regime of Antiochus sought to alienate Jews from Judaism, hoping to assimilate them into Greek culture. The Jews resisted and led by Matityahu and later by his son Yehuda the Maccabee, they rose up against the Greeks.

Antiochus sent thousands of armed troops to put down the rebellion. The Jewish warriors entered Jerusalem and found the Holy Temple in ruins and desecrated with idols. The Maccabees cleaned it up and reopened it on the 25th of Kislev, this year, December 25th. When the time came to re-light the Menorah, they searched the entire Temple, and only found a pot of pure oil that bore the High Priest's seal, but there was no more oil with which to light the Menorah for the next few days.
Here the miracle happened, since that little oil vessel burned for eight days, the time necessary to produce a new supply of oil. Since then, Jews have observed the holiday for eight days. Every night after saying the prayers, the head of the family takes the central candle of the chanukiah (candlestick with 9 arms) and lights the first candle, the second night, two are lit and so on until reaching the eighth candle. 
Children are usually given some coins to use in charity and they also play with whirligigs on whose faces the initials of the words in Hebrew appear: "A great miracle happened there." The Greeks forbade them to study Torah on pain of death, so the youngsters would pretend to play with whirligigs when they were caught studying.

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