There for the first time the miracle of the oil is recorded: the ancient temple in Jerusalem held an eternal flame, but after the desecration by the foreign invaders — including the sacrificing of pigs, a non-kosher animal, on the altar — only one day’s worth of purified oil remained. Yet the faithful went ahead and lighted it. The oil burned in the rededicated temple for eight days, long enough for a new supply to arrive. Hence the practice of lighting candles for eight nights to observe Hanukkah, which means dedication in Hebrew. (Perhaps just as significantly, the reference to oil also gave rise to a holiday tradition of eating foods like potato pancakes and doughnuts that had been cooked in it.)
By the 1980s, when I was a child, menorahs had been placed next to mangers in the public square and Hanukkah songs had been incorporated into winter holiday concerts. Despite this recognition, I still felt excluded enough to brag to classmates that my holiday was better than Christmas, since it had eight days of gift giving, instead of one. While elevating Hanukkah does a lot of good for children’s morale, ignoring or sanitizing its historical basis does a great disservice to the Jewish past and present.