Hanukkah is one of the most well-known Jewish holidays. For those of us who are not Jews, here is what Hanukkah is all about:
Hanukkah (sometimes Chanukkah) is a Jewish festival celebrated to commemorate the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 BC. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah lasts for eight days and nights for reasons we will explain shortly.
According to the Hebrew calendar, Hanukkah starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December according to the Gregorian calendar. This year it starts on the evening of Sunday, 22 December 2019 and ends the evening of Monday, 30 December 2019, meaning Christmas and Hanukkah overlap this year.
The Hanukkah Story
In 168 BC the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers. King Antiochus ordered an altar to be erected to the Greek god Zeus. In addition, Judaism was prohibited, circumcision was banned and pigs were sacrificed at the altar.
The Jewish rebellion that followed was led by Judah Maccabee, (or Y’hudhah HaMakabi, meaning “Judah the Hammer”). This uprising spanned three years until the Maccabees regained control of Jerusalem.
Once they had regained control of Jerusalem the Jews set out to rededicate the desecrated temple by lighting the Hanukiah. According to the Talmud, the Menorah was required to stay lit day and night and the only way to fuel the flame was using pure olive oil which contained the seal of the high priest.
The Maccabees only found enough oil for one day, and it would take eight days for a new batch of the sacred oil to be prepared.
They lit the candle and, miraculously, it burned for the entire eight days until the new oil was ready. This event became known as ‘the miracle of the oil’ and Hanukkah was born.
Today the Jewish people observe Hanukkah by lighting a nine-branched menorah, called a chanukiah.
Eight of the candle holders represents the eight days. The ninth holder, called the shamash (“helper” or “servant”), is for a candle used to light all other candles and/or to be used as an extra light. To be kosher the shamash must be offset on a higher or lower plane than the main eight candles or oil lamps.
It is customary to light one candle the first night, then an additional light each night until on the final night all the candles are lit.
To celebrate the ‘miracle of oil’, Jewish people eat foods cooked in oil, such as jam doughnuts which are deep-fried and latkes (potato pancakes) which are pan-fried. Games are often played during the festival as well, including spinning the dreidel which is the Yiddish word for a spinning top.
We encourage Christians to say a special prayer for our Jewish brothers and sisters as they celebrate Hanukkah.
Just as in the days of the Maccabees, where men tried to wipe out the memory of the Jews, there are still those today being driven by the same evil motives.
May Christians be a light of hope to the Jewish people, standing shoulder to shoulder with them, letting them know they no longer have to face these challenges alone.