I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. There was no religious training in our home at all. We would periodically try out various holidays and cultural celebrations but there were none we did, as our own. Sadly when it came to the Christian faith, there was more of a disgust and disdain for it. As I came to know Jesus and seek Him more and more, I was led, not to Christmas, but to Hanukkah. And I find this to be a time that is so powerful and beautiful!
It is a time to celebrate light, purity, spirituality ~ A time to cleanse and purify, and rededicate ourselves to God.
I know some refer to this as the “Jewish Christmas” but please know, it is not. In fact Hanukkah originated long before Christmas. Antiochus, the Greek king of Syria, outlawed Jewish rituals and he ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. Most of the Jews were angry and so they decided to fight back. In 165 B.C.E, the Maccabees drove the Syrian army out of Jerusalem and reclaimed the temple. They needed to cleanse and rededicate the temple by lighting the “eternal flame,” but they only had enough consecrated oil to burn for one day. Miraculously, that little bit of oil lasted for eight days until more purified oil could be found.
Celebrating Hanukkah today
Today, we use a Menorah, menorah adding one candle each day. According to the Jewish tradition, there is one special candle, the Shamash, whose position is above the other candles, thus this candle must come down to give light to the unlit ones. Shamash means ‘servant.’ Sounds like Jesus to me! And reminds me a great deal of Philippians 2. So on the first night, the Shamash plus one other candle is lit. On the second night, the Shamash plus two candles are lit. We celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and nights, beginning on the 25th in the month of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar. Since the Hebrew calendar is lunar rather than solar, Hanukkah falls on a different day each year, sometimes in November or even early January according to our calendar. This year we celebrate from December 6th to the 14th.
However, Hanukkah has always been a minor holiday, not to be seen as being one of the Holy Days given by the Lord.
In Hebrew, the word “Hanukkah” means “dedication.”
How about that dreidel?
Some say that the Jews played with the dreidel in order to fool the Greeks if they were caught studying Torah, since studying had been outlawed. The dreidel has four sides and features the Hebrew letters nun, gimel, hei and shin. These letters stand for the Hebrew phrase “Nes Gadol Hayah Sham,” “A great miracle happened there.”
- Begin by doling out to each player an equal number of game pieces (5-10) some use pennies, nuts, chocolate coins, etc.
- To start each round, every participant puts one game piece in the “pot.” And any time the pot is empty or has only one piece in it, every player should put one in the pot.
- Spin the dreidel:◦a) Nun means “nisht” or “nothing.” The player does nothing.
◦b) Gimmel means “gantz” or “everything.” The player gets everything in the pot.
◦c) Hey means “halb” or “half.” The player gets half of the pot. (If there is an odd number of pieces in the pot, the player takes half of the total plus one).
◦d) Shin (outside of Israel) means “shtel” or “put in.” Peh (in Israel) also means “put in.” The player adds a game piece to the pot
- When you have no pieces left, you are “out” or (as my children do) you may ask for a “loan.”
Can I say there are lots of yummy treats to enjoy during this celebration? Fried foods are the traditional choice during Hanukkah in remembrance of the sacred oil. Most popular are the latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (sweet jelly-filled doughnuts). Challah is also a delicious treat to enjoy during your celebration!
As a Christian, I am always seeking His way, in all things. And I have to say I find that this celebration is a powerful reminder of God’s miracles! And if we seek to follow HIs way, we cannot deny that Jesus honored this day himself!
“At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon” John 10:22-23.
John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life”.
Celebrate the light! Consecrate yourself and your life, once again, to Jesus!
May you and your home be filled with the Light of Eternal Life and the fire of the Holy Spirit this season!
Thank you to Jennifer from A “Piece” of Mind for this article.