I lived in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood for a short time as a kid and I got to celebrate Hanukkah AND Christmas with my friends and family. What a blessing. As a Christian, I view Judaism to be a vital part of my history and my heritage. Their story is my story.
For those of you readers who are unfamiliar with this eight day festival:
Hanukkah or Chanukah (Hebrew for “dedication”), annual festival of the Jewish people celebrated on eight successive days. It begins on the 25th day of Kislev, the third month of the Jewish calendar, corresponding, approximately, to December in the Gregorian calendar. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, Feast of Dedication, and Feast of the Maccabees.
Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem by Judas Maccabee in 165 bc . Re-dedication was necessary because Antiochus IV Epiphanes, king of Syria and overlord of Palestine, had profaned (defiled) the temple. In 168 bc, on a date corresponding approximately to December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus Olympius by order of Antiochus, who forbade the practice of Judaism. An altar to Zeus was set up on the high altar. When Judas Maccabee recaptured Jerusalem three years later, he had the temple purged and a new altar put up in place of the desecrated one. The temple was then rededicated to God with festivities that lasted eight days (see 1 Maccabees chapters 3 and 4). According to tradition, only a one-day supply of nondesecrated olive oil could be found for the rededication, but that small quantity burned miraculously for eight days. Jews commemorate this event by lighting candles for the eight nights of Hanukkah. The principal source for the story of Hanukkah is the Talmud.
The principal feature of present-day Hanukkah celebrations is the lighting of candles, one the first night, two the second, and so on until eight candles have been lit in a special candelabrum called a menorah. A Hanukkah menorah has eight branches and a holder for an extra candle that is used to light the others. (A seven-branched menorah that also has its origins in biblical times is now a symbol for the state of Israel.) A blessing is said each night as the Hanukkah candles are lit.
Hanukkah is a festive family occasion, with special foods and songs. Children generally receive small gifts or money, known as Hanukkah gelt (money), each evening after the candles are lit. Foods fried in oil, such as latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts, commemorate the miracle of the oil. Sweet foods also are popular, and children may receive chocolate coins in place of Hanukkah gelt. Songs also play a part in the festivities and remind the family of the events commemorated.
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Hanukkah Blessings taken from Holiday dot Net:
There are three Brachos (blessings) which are recited when the Chanukah candles are lit.
- “Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Chanukah”
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to Kindle the Chanukah light.
- “Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, She’asah nisim la’avoseinu, bayamim ha’hem baz’man hazeh”
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has wrought miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.
- Recited on the first night only
“Baruch ata Ado-nai, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, She’hecheyanu, vekiyemanu vehigi’anu laz’man hazeh”
Blessed are You, Hashem our G-d, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
After reciting the blessings and lighting the candles, the following paragraphs should recited or sung.
“Ha’Neiros halalu anachnu madlikin al hanisim ve’al hanifla’os, ve’al hat’shu’os ve’al hamilchamos, sh’asisa la’avoseinu bayamim hahem baz’man hazeh, al yedei kohaneicha hakedoshim. Vechol sh’monas yemei Chanukah, haneiros halalu kodesh hem. Ve’ein lanu reshus le’hishtamesh ba’hem, eh’la lir’osam bilvad, ke’dei le’hodos u’lehalel leshimcha hagadol al nisecha ve’al nifle’osecha ve’al yeshu’oshecha.”
These lights we kindle upon the miracles, the wonders, the salvations, and the battles which you performed for our forefathers in those days at this season through Your holy priests. During all eight days of Chanukah these lights are sacred, and we are not permitted to make ordinary use of them, but to look at them in order to express thanks and praise to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders and Your salvations.
“Ma’oz tzur yeshu’asi
Lecha na’eh leshabe’ach
Tikone bais tefilasi
Ve’sham todah nezabe’ach
Le’es Tachin Mabe’ach
Az egmor beshir mizmor
O mighty Rock of my salvation,
to praise You is a delight.
Restore my house of prayer
and there we will bring a thanksgiving offering.
When You will have prepared the slaughter
for the blaspheming foe,
Then I shall complete with a song of hymn
the dedication of the Altar.
I have a challenge for you guys. Regardless of your faith tradition, take some time and read about the Maccabees and the re-dedication of the temple. It’s all historical fact. These are a great people and their story is inspiring. I think you’ll like it.