The story of Hanukkah comes from the Talmud and the Mishnah, although there are references to a very similar story in the Apocrypha. 2 Maccabees mentions a Hanukkah-like festival in a passage beginning:
Therefore whereas we are now purposed to keep the purification of the temple upon the five and twentieth day of the month Casleu [Kislev], we thought it necessary to certify you thereof, that ye also might keep it, as the feast of the tabernacles, and of the fire, which was given us when Neemias offered sacrifice, after that he had builded the temple and the altar. [2 Maccabees 1.18, KJV]
There’s another, more interesting, description of a Hanukkah-like purification of the Temple at 2 Maccabees 10.1-8. I love this story; besides which, the successful fight against the tyrant who prevented the Jews from practicing their own religion has a certain poignancy today when it is dangerous for Christians to practice their religion in some parts of the world, dangerous for Muslims to practice their religion in many Western countries, and still dangerous for Jews to be Jews in many places in the world.
I’d love to have the talent to take the gorgeous prose of the King James Version of 2 Maccabees 10, and turn it into a metrical rhyming version of this story. I’ve been working on this, and have several partial verses, like “When Maccabeus and his band / De dum de dum de dum / De dum invader’s heavy hand…”; and “…public square, / De dum de dum, and then destroyed / The cursed idols there.” I’ve also got one whole verse:
They cleansed the temple, kindled fire,
Gave thanks that they were free;
And asked the Lord to keep them safe
From barbarous tyranny.
Or maybe it should be “blasphemous tyranny” — the passage at hand offers both possibilities.
Of course, if I ever did manage to write such a hymn, it would be unusable in any Unitarian Universalist congregation:— the term “Lord” (which is the way the translators indicate “Adonai,” as opposed to “God” for “Elohim”) would not be acceptable; it would be a hymn by a non-theistic Unitarian Universalist interpreting an apocryphal Christian text which we ordinarily ignore and which doesn’t really tell a Jewish story which means it’s probably cultural misappropriation; and it would be filtered through my liberation theology but Unitarian Universalists don’t really like songs and hymns that talk about freedom unless they’re African American songs or unless we’re talking about freedom to think what you want as opposed to literal freedom from bondage and oppression.
This is my main failing as a hymnodist. It’s bad enough that I can’t write good rhymed metrical verse, but it’s much worse that the hymns I want to write are hymns no one would ever want to sing.