December 18: start of Hanukkah (sometimes spelt Chanukah) an eight-day Jewish festival also known as the Feast of Lights
Outline script for assembly leader
It was one of those times (168BC) when the Jewish homeland was occupied by an invading power. This time it was Syria, which was in turn part of a mighty Greek empire. A Greek general called Antiochus was put in charge, and he wanted to end the Jewish way of life. He stopped the Jews from keeping the Sabbath holy day. He ordered pigs (which the Jews thought were unclean) to be killed in the Temple and tried to make the Jews eat pork.
One man, Judas, became the leader of the resistance. He was given a nickname, Maccabee, which means "the hammerer". He and his followers made a number of hit-and-run raids on the Syrian army. They gathered more supporters and were eventually victorious in a major battle. Judas led his men into Jerusalem and set about cleansing and re-dedicating the Temple.
Judas lit the special lamp which was meant to burn there, even though there was only enough oil for it to burn one day. Amazingly, it burned for eight days - until there was more oil available. Jews still say, in memory of those eight days: "A great miracle happened here." The Jewish word for dedication is "hanukkah".
During the festival, people light candles in a nine-branched candlestick (a menorah) and have celebration meals; they also play a game with a dreidel - a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side, the first letter of the words "great", "miracle", "happened" and "here". Players start with an equal number of counters, nuts or coins, placed in a "bank". The rules vary but players spin the top in turn, winning or losing counters depending on which lands uppermost.
The story of Judas is in the apocryphal book I Maccabeus (chapters 1-4) found in some bibles. A simple dreidel can be made out of a square of stiff card with a pencil pushed through its centre and the letters written on the edges of the card. An American website with extensive links to seasonal stories, poems, games, lesson plans and clip art can be found at www.educationplanet.comarticleshanukkah For vegetarian recipes suitable for the festival see www.vegsource.comhanukkah