The word Chanuka means 'dedication' and it is widely used in this sense in phrases like 'Chanukat haBayit', dedication of one's home.
So, what 'dedication' are we referring to in our holiday "Chanuka"?
During the Second century BCE the Jews in Israel lived under the rule of the Syrian-Greek army of Antiokhus Epiphanies. They were not permitted to practice their religion and at one point, the Bet haMikdash (The Holy Temple of Jerusalem) was captured and defiled by the Greeks.
They introduced an image of their pagan god, Zeus, and dedicated our Holy Temple to him, offering sacrifices of impure animals like pigs. In the years 165 BCE the Jews lead by Yehuda Maccabi rebelled against the powerful armies of Antiokhus and miraculously defeated them. When they regain possession of the Bet haMikdash, they purified the Holy Temple and in order to re-dedicate it to God Almighty they needed to light the Menorah, which indicates that the Bet haMikdash was fully operating to God's service. They found one small jar, with an amount of oil which normally would last only for one night.
They lit the Menorah and joyfully dedicated the Bet haMikdash back to God. They thought that they will need to interrupt the rededication of the Temple until new oil could be produced, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, the exact time needed to make new pure olive oil.
In Chanuka then, we celebrate the 'dedication of the Bet haMikdash' to God Almighty, after years of being defiled.
Chanuka is observed by the kindling of candles during the nights of the holiday, in remembrance of the miracle of the oil.
Chanuka is celebrated on the 25th of the month of Kislev.
This year, 2011, Chanuka begins Tuesday Dec 20th, at night.