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Hanukkah is the Jewish eight-day, “festival of lights,” celebrated with a nightly menorah lighting, special prayers, dreidels, chocolate gelt and latkes (potato pancakes) traditionally fried in oil. The Hebrew meaning of the name is “Dedication” or “Consecration.” In 2018 the holiday begins in the evening of Sunday, December 2 and ends in the evening of Monday, December 10.
Hanukkah is not one of the biblical feasts of Israel. It is not found in the Hebrew Bible (Tanakh/Old Testament) at all, nor in the Aramaic portions in Ezra, Daniel and Jeremiah which is also in that biblical canon. Most of what we know about it comes from two texts, the First and Second Books of Maccabees (go to page 131 [the page number at the bottom of the page]) which are not recognized as canon by Jews or Protestants however they are in the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic bibles. The canonical books all followed certain guidelines that the Apocrypha (of which the First and Second Books of Maccabees are a part of), while useful, do not follow.
Hanukah is however referenced in the Greek New Testament. John 10:22-23 “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.”
In the second century BC, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who tried to force the Israelites to accept Greek culture and beliefs instead of Jewish traditions, culture, and belief in God. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and as they were rededicating the Temple after an un-kosher sacrifice was made, the oil to light the Temple’s menorah (the seven-branched candelabrum), which was only enough for one day lasted for eight. Hanukkah is a powerful story of God interceding on behalf of His people and showing His faithful loving kindness.
Much more than the “Jewish alternative” to Christmas, Hanukkah recalls a dark time in the history of the Jewish people and our miraculous deliverance from that darkness. To celebrate, each night at sunset during Hanukkah we light the 8 branched candelabrum called a menorah (or hanukkiah.)
There is a 9th candle, on most menorahs in the center, or at one end raised higher than all the others. We first light that candle (which is called the Shamash), and we use that to light the other candles, one additional candle each night, from right to left (electric menorahs placed in windows will look the reverse to the people inside as those are meant to display right to left for the people seeing it from the outside.) Shamash means servant or caretaker. For people it refers to the person who takes care of the synagogue. For Hanukkah, it refers to the first candle that is lit on the hanukkiah, the “servant” candle that is used to light all the other candles.
Once the Shamash has brought light to the other candles, it then takes its place, once again, above the others. This is symbolic of Jesus, who came to be a servant, bringing light into the world, and then took His place, once again above the others. Philippians 2:6-10 “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Each night there is a blessing recited. Some families traditionally give children a small gift on each night, others give one larger gift for the entire holiday or do both.
At the end of this page I will link to the Rabbinic Jewish observance of the holiday as well as link to the Messianic Jewish adaptation of the prayers. However, for me, every day is about Jesus so of course this holiday is no different. In addition, the celebration of Hanukkah has always been about lighting the menorah, the chocolate gelt, dreidels, sometimes the latkes, and always my family. I have beautiful memories of my father lighting the menorah when I was growing up and singing Maoz Tzur in his off key voice. He has since passed away but any singing of this traditional song touches me deeply. Raising our children, we always gave them turns lighting the “real menorah” (the one with candles as compared to the electric one we placed in the window) and the chocolate gelt was a much enjoyed treat. When Jesus became real in our lives, the depth of what this holiday symbolizes became the forefront of it all. Never was there adherence to any strict Orthodox religious way of handling every aspect of the holiday. It was simply a beautiful time to celebrate, remember and rejoice.
As we celebrate the “Festival of Lights” we can rededicate our lives to Jesus and acknowledge Him as the perfect and true light of this world. Celebrating Hanukkah reminds us of God’s wonderful miracles on our behalf, the greatest miracle of all being His salvation. Hanukkah observance reminds us to remain true to God even when the world around us tries to force us into assimilation.
So, let’s discuss the Jesus aspect of it. During this great season of remembering miracles, Jesus pointed out to His listeners that the miracles He had done authenticated His claim that He was, indeed, the long-awaited Messiah (John 10:37-38). His works and His true character clearly demonstrated who He was.
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12). Jesus gives all of us, Jew and Gentile, black and white, Spanish, Asian, and every single other color and ethnicity on this great planet of ours, the “light of life.” Eternal life. With Him. Here and forever. With what He put in us at salvation “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has shone upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1.) “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16.)