JUDAISM: Jews celebrate an 8 day festival of Hanukkah, (a.k.a. Feast of Lights, Festival of lights, Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Hanukah). It recalls the war fought by the Maccabees in the cause of religious freedom. Antiochus, the king of Syria, conquered Judea in the 2nd century BCE. He terminated worship in the Temple and stole the sacred lamp, the menorah, from before the altar. At the time of the solstice, they rededicated the Temple to a Pagan deity. Judah the Maccabee lead a band of rebels, and succeeding in retaking Jerusalem. They restored the temple and lit the menorah. It was exactly three years after the flame had been extinguished -- at the time of the Pagan rite.
Although they had found only sufficient consecrated oil to last for 24 hours, the flames burned steadily for eight days.
"Today's menorahs have nine branches; the ninth branch is for the shamash, or servant light, which is used to light the other eight candles. People eat potato latkes, exchange gifts, and play dreidel games. And as they gaze at the light of the menorah, they give thanks for the miracle in the Temple long ago." 6
Modern-day Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting one candle for each of the eight days of the festival. Once a minor festival, it has been growing in importance in recent years, perhaps because of the popularity of Christmas.
Today marks the 2010 winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the shortest day of the year, when darkness begins and ends the workday, leaving many of us to wonder whether the Sun ever did rise. But today is also an annual turning point. From now until the summer solstice, which occurs annually on June 21 or 22, we can look forward to increasingly longer spans of daylight, even if we still have a few months of snow and ice to endure.
The winter solstice is one of two moments in the year (the second being the summer solstice) when the Sun’s apparent path is farthest north or south from Earth’s Equator. Occurring between the solstices are the vernal (spring) and autumnal (fall) equinoxes, moments in the year when the Sun is exactly above the Equator and day and night are of equal length.
The winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the summer solstice in the Southern Hemisphere. This is because Earth’s tilt on its axis, which is about 66.5 degrees to the orbital plane, is constant as the planet orbits around the Sun. Thus, during the point in Earth’s elliptical orbit when the North Pole is inclined away from the Sun at an angle of 23.5 degrees, the Southern Hemisphere receives the Sun’s rays at a more direct angle than does the Northern Hemisphere. As a result, while the Southern Hemisphere is warmed and enjoys long sunlight hours, the Northern Hemisphere cools and is veiled in darkness the majority of the time.
North of the Arctic Circle, the winter solstice is extreme. The Sun barely rises above the horizon there, meaning that the day brings complete darkness for a full 24-hour cycle.
Earth’s orbit around the Sun, with the positions of solstices and equinoxes. (Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.)