"While elevating Hanukkah [to a major Jewish holiday by, in part, putting large Hanukkah menorahs on public display to compete with Christmas trees and manger scenes] 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."
Hilary Leila Krieger writes in the NY Times:
…While elevating Hanukkah [to a major Jewish holiday by, in part, putting large Hanukkah menorahs on public display to compete with Christmas trees and manger scenes] 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.
The original miracle of Hanukkah was that a committed band of people led a successful uprising against a much larger force, paving the way for Jewish independence and perhaps keeping Judaism itself from disappearing. It’s an amazing story, resonant with America’s own founding, that offers powerful lessons about standing up for one’s convictions and challenging those in power.
Many believe the rabbis in the Talmud recounted the miracle of the light alongside the military victory because they did not want to glorify war. That in itself is an important teaching, as are the holiday’s related messages of renewal, hope and turning away from darkness.
But it’s a story with dark chapters as well, including the Maccabean leaders’ religious zealotry, forced conversions and deadly attacks on their neighbors. These transgressions need to be grappled with. And that is precisely what the most important Jewish holidays do: Jews on Passover spill out wine from their glasses to acknowledge Egyptian suffering caused by the 10 plagues, and congregations at Rosh Hashana read and struggle with God’s order to Abraham to bind his son Isaac as a sacrifice.
If we’re going to magnify Hanukkah, we should do so because it offers the deeper meaning and opportunity for introspection that the major Jewish holidays provide.
I would say that rabbis didn't want to glorify war for two reasons: 1) They weren't a part of the Maccabees' victory and they played no real discernible role in Jewish life at that time and, 2) later, the Romans were extremely hostile to anything Jews did that appeared warlike or that glorified war.
Whatever the reason, the so-called miracle of oil was invented long after the first Hanukkah, probably as a children's story, by rabbis who needed to find a way to make the existing commemoration of Hanukkah into something that meshed with their own theology. (Look at this as being similar tof the way kiruv rabbis twist Judaism to recruit naive non-haredi Jews. This probably wasn't much different.)
With that they downplayed the forced conversions, the brutal attacks against Hellenized Jews by the Maccabees, and and the war itself.
And now Hanukkah is the "Festival of Lights," even though no miracle of oil ever really happened.