Chanukah starts tonight, December 4, or the 25th of Kislev (we start the day at sundown- Dec 4th is really the 24th of Kislev) on the Jewish Calendar. The Jewish Calendar does not exactly sync with the Gregorian so it seems to move around. Next year is starts on December 28th.
Its is important not to use the Jewish calendar to pay your taxes.
Though it falls around the Christmas season its is not really a Jewish Christmas. Chanukah celebrates a military defeat of Antiochus III, a successor of Alexander the Great, by the Macabbees after a three year war about 140 years before the birth of Jesus. It is more like a Fourth of July.
Alexander the Great allowed the independence of local customs and religions, a policy Antiochus did not continue. Antiochus was oppressive and intolerant of the Jews. The success of the Macabbees was a victory for religious freedom.
The eight days of candles is a tradition attributed to the temple light burning for 8 days with only a days worth of oil. I believe the gift giving part was added in the US so the Jewish kids would not get a complex while their non Jewish friends were raking in the loot. The circumcision thing had to be enough of a tough sell, but denying the kids gifts during the ultimate season of gifts was just too hard to explain every single year.
Such is the origin of some traditions.
for more about the history of the holiday : http://www.jewfaq.org/holiday7.htm
Jews generally do not have Christmas trees unless it is a mixed marriage. Some of our non Christian friends believe we are denied a holiday joy because of this. Not so- It just is not our holiday. It is easy for those in the majority to become ethnocentric- unable to see a different culture or tradition as the center of life. I personally enjoy seeing everyone else’s trees and it is a beautiful tradition. It is just much easier to clean up after a menorah.
I got a new iPod on the first night. Thanks Debbie. My old iPod is so old it uses tiny rolls of paper with little holes punched in them.