Hanukkah, Judaism's eight-day commemoration of the temple rededication that followed the Maccabees' victory over a larger Syrian army in 165 B.C., begins at sundown Saturday.
Free public menorah lighting ceremonies are scheduled for the Sherman Oaks Galleria (6 p.m.), Universal CityWalk (8 p.m.) and Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica (8 p.m.)
Once the Jews defeated the Hellenist Syrian forces of Antiochus IV at the end of a three-year rebellion, the temple in Jerusalem, which the occupiers had dedicated to the worship of Zeus, was rededicated by Judah Maccabee, who led the insurgency begun by his father, the high priest Mattathias.
According to the story of Hanukkah, Maccabee and his soldiers wanted to light the temple's ceremonial lamp with ritually pure olive oil as part of their rededication but found only enough oil to burn for one day. The oil, however, burned for eight days in what was held to be a miracle.
Hanukkah -- which means dedication in Hebrew -- is observed around the world by lighting candles in a special menorah called a Hanukkiah each day at sundown for eight days, with an additional candle added each day.
The reason for the lights is so passers-by should see them and be reminded of the holiday's miracle.
Other Hanukkah traditions include spinning a dreidel, a four-sided top, which partially commemorates a game that Jews under Greek domination are believed to have played to camouflage their Torah study, and eating foods fried in oil, such as latkes, pancakes of grated raw potatoes, and jelly doughnuts.
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Children receive Hanukkah "gelt" (the Yiddish word for money) from parents and grandparents. The tradition originated with 17th century Polish Jews giving money to their children to give their teachers during Hanukkah, which led to parents also giving children money.
In the United States, the practice has evolved into giving holiday gifts to children and others.
Unlike on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, or Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, observant Jews are permitted to work and attend school during Hanukkah, the only Jewish holiday that commemorates a military victory.
The menorah lighting at Universal CityWalk will include a concert by the Jewish rock groups 8th Day and Pardes Rock and face painting. Kosher food will be available.
The lighting of a 12-foot menorah on the Third Street Promenade will include latkes and Hasidic dancing with live music.
The Sherman Oaks Galleria lighting will include treats, crafts and entertainment.
"During Hanukkah, we remember a story about the triumph of hope against all odds, and celebrate the beauty and resilience of light," said Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles' first elected Jewish mayor. "And even after generations of telling our children about the miracle of the oil that lit the temple in Jerusalem for eight days, the message of Hanukkah endures like that flickeringflame.
"May this time of year always remind us that nothing is brighter or warmer than the light we find within ourselves -- and nothing is stronger than the hope we give to each other in our times of greatest need."
At the White House Hanukkah reception Dec. 14, President Barak Obama said Hanukkah's many lessons include "how a small group can make a big difference."
"That's the story of the Maccabees' unlikely military victory, and of great moral movements around the globe and across time, how a little bit can go a long way, like the small measure of oil that outlasted every expectation."
"It reminds us that even when our resources seem limited, our faith can help us make the most of what little we have. The small State of Israel and the relatively small Jewish population of this country have punched far above their weight in their contributions to the world so the Festival of Lights is also a reminder of how Isaiah saw the Jewish people, as a light unto the nations."