The Jewish festival of Hanukkah begins this Saturday evening at sundown. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication,” and the significance of this will be discussed below. The eight day festival in 2012 runs from Sunday, December 9 to Sunday, December 16. It is a holiday period of historical and religious significance to Jews all over the world. But Hanukkah should probably also be of importance to Latter-day Saints and other Christians, for without Hanukkah there would have been no Christmas!
The ancient Jewish people in the Land of Israel faced a grave threat when the Greco-Syrian despot Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire in 175 BC. Syria controlled Judea at the time, but the Jews had been treated with tolerance by previous Syrian rulers. Antiochus IV, however, saw himself as a Greek deity in human form (he even adopted for himself the title Epiphanes) and his goal was to convert all the peoples of his realm to the worship of the Greek pantheon. This was not so difficult for many of his subjects across the fertile crescent, who worshipped polytheistic pantheons of their own – for many it was merely a matter of adapting Greek deity names, such as Zeus, to their own gods.