Hanukkah (Hebrew word for dedication) begins on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. It lasts for eight days beginning at sunset the previous day and is also known as the Festival of Lights.
Hanukkah celebrates the victory (165 BCE) of the Maccabees over the Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV and the subsequent reclamation of Jerusalem. According to the Talmud, only a one day supply of nondesecrated oil was found in the Temple when the Maccabees prepared it for rededication by removing all Syrian idols. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days until oil that was fit for use in the temple could be obtained.
This miracle is commemorated by the lighting of the Hanukkah candles. The candles are placed on the menorah or hanukkiya, a nine-branch candelabrum. The ninth branch of the hanukkiya holds the shamash, or servant light. This branch is lit first and is used to light a new candle on successive nights. The candle lighting is accompanied by the chanting of blessings.
During Hanukkah, gifts are exchanged and children often play the dreidl game.
For more detailed information, visit the Jewish Communication Network's Hanukkah site or Chanukah on the Net.