The eight days and nights of Chanukah began at sundown Tuesday, December 7th, and local synagogues and Jewish community members are in the midst of celebration.

In Hebrew, the term Chanukah (or Hanukkah) stands for “dedication,” and commemorates the rededication of an ancient holy temple in Jerusalem.

The story goes that at around 165 B.C.E., the Jews had been living under the rule of Antiochus, the Greek king of Syria, who had outlawed Jewish rituals and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods.

The Jews’ holy temple had been seized and dedicated to the worship of the supreme Greek god Zeus.

The Jews revolted and after three years of struggle, triumphed over the Hellenist Syrians.

Upon the victory, Jewish general Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the temple and found it ravaged. They cleaned and repaired the temple and planned a rededication celebration. But they found themselves short of oil to keep the menorah lit for eight days. They could only find enough for one day. But miraculously, the menorah stayed lit, according to Jewish history.

Today, Jews celebrate Chanukah to commemorate the eight-day miracle.

Locally, public Chanukah celebrations are under way.

HANUKKAH PAJAMIKAH — Mollie Wine, a.k.a. Doda Mollie, plans to rock conservative Congregation Mishkon Tephilo on Sunday, December 12th, with her high energy “Hanukkah Pajamikah!” sing-along show for kids and adults. Traditional Chanukah songs will be sung with the help of the audience. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. and participants are asked to bring along a menorah and candles for a congregation-wide candle lighting ceremony. The night will conclude with the serving of homemade latkes, a traditional Jewish food made from oily fried potatoes.

Also, participants are encouraged to attend dressed in creative pajama costumes. Awards for best pajamas will be given. However, congregation leaders ask, “No revealing attire, please.”

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children under 13, or $18 per family. The Congregation Mishkon Tephilo sanctuary is at 206 Main St., Venice.

Information, (310) 451-2700.

CHANUKAH FESTIVAL — The Chabad Jewish Center in the Del Rey area likes to take its Chanukah celebration out of the synagogue and into the public arena each year to bring more public visibility to the holiday and to Jewish culture.

Its annual Chanukah Festival is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at the Center Court of the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, 6081 Center Drive, Westchester. Admission is free.

For the past three years, the centerpiece of the celebration has been a large menorah sculpted out of ice. This year, a giant menorah made from balloons will take its place.

“We wanted to have a change of pace this year,” says Rabbi Yossi Greisman. “With all the cold weather lately, the ice would give the wrong impression. We wanted to have a warmer feel to the event.”

“If people say they miss the ice menorah, we’ll bring it back next year,” he says.

“Also, I saw some kids go up and lick the ice last year, which kind of worried me,” says Greisman with a laugh.

Though the kids will have to do without the ice menorah this year for refreshment, they’ll have plenty of other activities planned just for them.

Activities and attractions at the event will include live music, a magician, dreidels and gelt, doughnuts and latkes, a “craft your own menorah” activity, balloons, face painting, gift wrapping for children in need and cookie decorating.

The event will take place on the sixth day of Chanukah, and therefore, six of the eight candles will be lit at the ceremony. Greisman will emcee the candle lighting and will dedicate each candle to a local person for outstanding community service throughout the year, he says.

Information, (310) 417-8500.

CHANUKAH PIZZA PARTY — A pizza dinner and Chanukah candle lighting ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, December 14th, on the last day of Chanukah, at the B’nai Tikvah Congregation, 5820 Manchester Ave., Westchester. The celebration is being given by the B’nai Tikvah Congregation Sisterhood.

The meal will also include salad and dessert. Participants are asked to bring candles and to invite people who are not members of the congregation.

Admission is $5 per person or $18 per family.

Also coming up during the holiday season is a “Tot shabbat” for children of nursery school age and parents, at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, December 18th, at B’nai Tikvah. The shabbat will be led by children’s performer Doda Mollie. Rabbi Jason van Leeuwen, who replaced Rabbi Michael Beals this year, will sing and play guitar for the children. Admission is free.

Information, (310) 645-6262.

JEWS IN FASCIST-ERA SPAIN — Not directly related to Chanukah, but relevant to the historical struggle of the Jews, writer and therapist Trudi Alexi will give a talk about her Jewish family’s roots and what life was like for Jews in fascist-era Spain.

Spain was ruled with an iron fist by Mussolini-like fascist dictator Francisco Franco until 1959.

Alexi says that Spain, a country which had persecuted Jews for centuries, nevertheless played a role in rescuing some Jews from the Holocaust.

Alexi will also discuss the current climate for Hispanic Jews.

Alexi is the author of The Mezzuzah in the Madonna’s Foot: Marranos and Other Secret Jews and The Marrano Legacy: A Contemporary Crypto-Jewish Priest Reveals Secrets of His Double Life.

The talk will take place at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at Kehillat Ma’arav, 1715 21st St., Santa Monica. Admission is $10 members, $12 non-members.

Information, (310) 829-0566.

Other holiday events…

Christmas concerts and holiday events continue this week leading up to the Saturday, December 25th, holiday.

HOLIDAY CHAMBER MUSIC — The Mansfield Chamber Singers, directed by Kenneth Wells, will begin their 25th anniversary season with a Christmas concert at 4 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at the St. Augustine By-the-Sea Episcopal Church, 1227 Fourth St., Santa Monica. Donations are requested.

Musical selections range from the 17th to 21st centuries and include “Sing Ye Muses” by John Blow, “Magnificat” by Pachelbel, “Verleih uns Frieden” by Mendelssohn and the finale to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy.

Works by contemporary composers Daniel E. Gawthrop, David Mooney, Robert Applebaum, Howar Helvey and Kenneth Wells round out the program.

The Mansfield Chamber Singers includes 25 voices and has been performing locally since 1979. In recent years, the group has performed at Carnegie Hall and in Europe.

Information, (310) 234-0215.

PRESCHOOL CHRISTMAS — A Children of Our Savior Christmas pre-school program is scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 15th, at Our Savior Lutheran Church, 6705 77th St., Westchester. Admission is free.

Information, (310) 670-7272.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL — Veteran film actor Orson Bean and Kyle Thompson star in a special adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 15th; and Saturday and Sunday, December 18th and 19th, at the First Lutheran Church of Venice. Admission to the play is free. The play is being presented by the Pacific Resident Theatre.

Reservations are necessary for the Saturday performance.

Bean, whose film credits include Being John Malkovich, Anatomy of A Murder and TV’s Facts of Life, plays the ill-tempered old miser Ebenezer Scrooge.

Information, (310) 822-8392.

HOLIDAY CERAMICS SALE — A holiday ceramics and art sale is scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, December 10th; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, December 11th; and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at Loyola Marymount University, 1 LMU Drive, Westchester. Admission is free.

Information, (310) 338-3053.

SMC HOLIDAY ART — Santa Monica College’s 26th annual Holiday Student Art Sale, featuring works in a variety of media including blown glass, prints, paintings, drawings and ceramics, will be held from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, December 14th and 15th, at the Pete and Susan Barrett Art Gallery located on the college’s Madison campus, 1008 11th St., Santa Monica. Admission is free.

Information, (310) 434-3434.

WINTER FAIRE — Ocean Charter School, a Waldorf-inspired charter school, will hold a Winter Faire from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, December 11th, at 12606 Culver Blvd., Del Rey area. Admission is free.

The fair will include crafts such as beeswax candle dipping and candle rolling. There will be “winter fairies,” hazelnut gnome necklaces and winter bird treats.

The fair includes a “magical winterland” children’s market, where kids can buy natural and handmade holiday gifts for their families.

Entertainment includes live music and a marionette show.

Organizers say they seek to create an “old world” holiday market atmosphere.

Information, (310) 390-3781.

LMU CHRISTMAS CONCERT — Loyola Marymount University’s (LMU) Department of Music will present its annual Gala Christmas Choral Concert at 8 p.m. Thursday and Saturday, December 9th and 11th, in the campus’s Sacred Heart Chapel, 1 LMU Drive, Westchester. Tickets are $12 for the Thursday performance and $12 to $15 for Saturday’s show.

The LMU Consort Singers and the LMU Concert Choir will perform, along with the debut appearance of the LMU Women’s Chorus. Mary Breden, director of choral activities, will conduct all three groups.

Among the works that will be performed at the concert this year are Frank Ferko’s “Festival of Carols,” a collection of American carol texts, and Z. Randall Stroope’s “Hodie!”

The choruses will be accompanied by brass instrumentalists.

Information, (310) 338-5154.

SPIRITUAL HOLIDAY JAZZ — The Agape Voices of Praise, a jazz choral ensemble, will perform contemporary and gospel music at a concert at 5 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at the Holy Nativity Church, 6700 83rd St., Westchester. Admission is free.

The Agape Voices of Praise performs under the direction of worship leader Joanne Williams and director of music Ray Egan.

The concert is part of the church’s Jazz Vespers Series, which combines live music with readings and prayers.

Information, (310) 670-4777.

MUSICAL HOLIDAY GALA — A holiday gala with dance music, including fox trot, rumba, waltz, salsa and swing, spun by DJ Brian, is scheduled for 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at the Mayflower Ballroom, 234 Hindry Ave., Westchester. Admission is $20 and includes food.

Information, (310) 373-8487.

HOLIDAY IN THE PARK — A holiday concert by the Surf City Allstars is being presented by the Music Center of Los Angeles County’s Education Division and Playa Vista’s “Concerts in the Park” series.

The Surf City Allstars features band members from top 1960s surf rock groups Jan and Dean, The Ventures and The Beach Boys.

The concert is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday, December 10th, at the Playa Vista Concert Park, (near Jefferson Boulevard and Alla Road), Playa Vista. Admission is free.

Information, (310) 689-7537.

HOLIDAY FASHION SHOW — A holiday fashion show is planned from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, December 12th, at Denny’s Restaurant, 11750 Jefferson Blvd., Del Rey area. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

Reservations, (310) 745-9822.

Alternative holiday events…

TWISTED CHRISTMAS — Twisted Christmas, a group art exhibition critical of the “greed, religious iconography, tradition, decoration, myth, spirituality, politics and culture” of holidays, is scheduled to open with a musical reception at 6 p.m. Saturday, December 11th, at the Unurban Coffee House, 3301 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Admission is free.

Through a variety of media and artistic genres, the 24 artists in the show have each created their own individual response to the Twisted Christmas theme.

Participating artist George Helms has had his assemblage works displayed at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.

Illustrator Adam Cook created “Christmissiles,” an image of candy cane missiles as a holiday protest against the war in Iraq.

“The piece is about how we’re bombing people during Christmas,” says exhibition curator Joella March.

The exhibit will remain on display through Saturday, January 15th.

Musical acts Vinnie Caggiano, Tarab, Quincy and Jesca Hoop will perform at the opening.

Information, (310) 315-0056.

BIG + HOLY — Big + Holy brings together some big-name artists for an exhibit taking a creative stab at religious and holiday hypocrisy.

Artists in the show include Raymond Pettibon, Ed Ruscha, Ed Moses, Peter Lodato, Victor Gastelum and a slew of other notables.

An opening reception is scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday, December 11th, at the Cartelle Gallery, 301 Washington Blvd., Marina del Rey. The exhibit continues through Sunday, January 23rd.

The show promotes secular humanism in the way that holiday events promote religion, according to show organizers.

Christopher Russell, an artist participating in the show, asserts that holy scripture can be interpreted and applied in any way people choose, including sick and sadistic ways.

He says the artists in the show invoke embarrassing memories of Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker and other ex-stars of televangelism.

“The show title doesn’t prepare viewers for illuminated manuscripts, gothic arches, saintly visions of divine light or the third secret of Fatima,” says Russell. “Big + Holy asks how artists in Los Angeles are processing the question of religion or spirituality at a moment when many feel that competing ideologues have embarked on an unstated holy war.

“The artists deal with motifs and marks of Christian holiness through humor, material and an exploration of the devotional. Big + Holy maneuvers the signs of Christianity into images of secular fantasy, fascination and protest.”

Information, (310) 574-9689.