Special appreciation to www.chabad.org for the resources provided.
Chanukah is the Jewish eight-day, wintertime “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting and special prayers. The Hebrew word Chanukah means “dedication,” and is thus named because it celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple.
In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by the Syrian-Greeks, who tried to force the people of Israel to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of mitzvah observance and belief in G‑d. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G‑d.
When they sought to light the Temple's Menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks. Miraculously, they lit the menorah and the one-day supply of oil lasted for eight days until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, the sages instituted the festival of Chanukah.
At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting. The menorah holds nine flames, one of which is the shamash (“attendant” or “servant”), which is used to kindle the other eight lights. The first night which is tonight, we light just one flame. On the second night, an additional flame is lit. By the eighth night of Chanukah, all eight lights are kindled. The shamash, the "attendant or servant" candle that is used to kindle the other lights, sits a bit higher than the other candles, on the ninth branch of the menorah. Though the shamash's primary function has been served once the candles have been lit, we don't extinguish the shamash. Instead, we set it in its place adjacent to the other lights, ready to "serve" in case a candle blows out. Before we light the first candle these special blessings are recited:
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
On the first night of Chanukah, Tuesday, December 12th we add the following blessing:
Blessed are You, Lord our G‑d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.
We light the first candle of Hanukkah and we remember the miracles of God in our lives.