The history behind Hanukkah starts with a ruler who wanted to unify people by abolishing religious distinctions. He was not entirely opposed to all religious observance, he just wanted to abolish religions he considered primitive and superstitious, such as Judaism. Antiochus was convinced that Hellenism, the Greek way of life was superior to all others; and he thought it his duty to enlighten the city of Jerusalem.
Many of the leaders and people in Jerusalem went along with the program of Hellenism, to a point. But for Antiochus, it was not enough that the youth of Jerusalem learned to speak Greek, study philosophy, and exercise in a public gymnasium. He wanted them to renounce and totally abandon the faith of their ancestors.
Antiochus was especially against the religious identification of children. He banned, under penalty of death, Jewish parents from marking their children as belonging to the covenant. He also banned the Torah and adherence to its precepts–especially the “superstitious” rules about food.
The Macabee brothers rose up against Antiochus and, against all odds, defeated his armies. The Jews celebrated the rededication of the temple after it had been defiled by Antiochus. They found only one small container of oil that had not been defiled by Antiochus–enough to light a lamp for one day.
It took a week to find and crush new olives to prepare new oil–but miraculously the oil from the one jar burned for a full eight days.
Eight candles are now used to celebrate the eight days of Hanukkah (Hebrew for dedication), plus a ninth candle in the center to light the other candle.