The Christians may have Santa Claus, the jolly man who “ho ho hos” down chimneys, bringing presents to good little boys and girls, but Jews have their own icons to look up to at holiday time. Hanukkah’s beloved characters are actually way cooler than Santa Claus because, unlike Santa, who adds joy to the Christmas holiday but doesn’t actually have anything to do with the holiday itself, the Hanukkah peeps are based on real, historical figures who did badass things.
It’s interesting that Hanukkah has become the most secular and assimilated of the Jewish holidays, because it’s actually the story of the Jewish fight for independence and freedom (and not really that big of a deal in the Jewish religion). The lessons we’re taught by the players in the story of Chanukah are ones of never being afraid to do what’s right and stand up for what we believe in.
Hanukkah commemorates the Jewish war for independence fought by Jews living in Greece, Turkey, and Syria after a new king took the throne and declared that all residents who did not renounce their religion and worship the Greek god Zeus and himself, King Antiochus, would be murdered, it led to the uprising. It is the leaders of this rebellion that we recognize and celebrate during Hanukkah, and they are rad AF.
Mattathias Maccabeus was a Jewish priest and the originator of the Maccabean rebellion, which began when a Greek official tried to force him to make a sacrifice to a pagan God, so Mattathias murdered him. The Jews rose up, led by Mattathias and his five sons, together known as the Maccabees.
Judah was Mattathias’ son, and when Mattathias died, Judah took up the fight for Jewish independence and freedom.
While Mattathias and Judah were both Maccabees, they were only part of the family. The name Maccabee means “hammer,” because it was rumored that they struck blows like a hammer to their enemies.
4The Eternal Flame
After the war was won, the Jews went to the Holy Temple, to clean and resanctify it. They discovered that there was only enough oil to burn for one night to light the eternal flame, which was supposed to keep the Torah illuminated at all times. But, by some miracle, the oil burned for eight nights, which was enough time for the people to get more oil and return, meaning that the flame never had to go out. It’s why we light eight candles today, to honor the eight nights the oil burned.
OK, so maybe this one isn't actually a real person. But Hanukkah Harry, portrayed by John Lovtiz on Saturday Night Live, was the Santa Claus Jewish children never got to have growing up. He’s buds with Santa and helps him out when Santa is sick one Christmas.