Afestival is a collective celebration of an achievement in a given community. The Festival of Hanukkah is a Jewish celebration, and it is celebrating the recovery and re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. Hanukkah is spelled in many different ways in case you want to Google it; Hanuka, Chanukah, Chanuka, Hanuka, Hanukka and other variations. Hanukkah is celebrated for eight days and nights. It is also called the festival of lights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev each year. The actual date differs due to the lunar calendar.
It is about 11 days earlier in each successive year. The Jews, Muslims and some Hindu festivals follow the moon for observing their holidays and the date is different every year. This year the festivities will begin with the lighting of Menorah on Thursday, November 28th and will continue thru December 5, 2014. This year, I found one of the best pieces written by Rabbi Michael Lerner, who and I met in Melbourne, Australia and have kept up writing to each other since then. Rabbi Michael Lerner wrote about Chanukah, describing it as “the holiday celebrating the triumph of hope over fear, light over darkness, and the powerless over the powerful.”
He went on to say that Chanukah is about “understanding that when we connect with the transformative power of the universe, the Force of Healing and Transformation, YHVH, we become aware that the powerless can become powerful, that oppression of any sort is in contradiction to the fundamental nature of human beings as loving, kind, generous, free, creative, intelligent, attuned to beauty, caring for and needing each other beings created in the image of God. When that energy and awareness permeates our consciousness, no ruling elite and no system of exploitation can possibly last for very long.”
The Hanukkah Story
Here is a story I received in email that tells the story and significance of Hanukkah. In 168 B.C.E. the Jewish Temple was seized by Syrian-Greek soldiers and dedicated to the worship of the god Zeus. This upset the Jewish people, but many were afraid to fight back for fear of reprisals. Then in 167 B.C.E. the Syrian-Greek emperor Antiochus made the observance of Judaism an offense punishable by death. He also ordered all Jews to worship Greek gods. Jewish resistance began in the village of Modiin, near Jerusalem.
Greek soldiers forcibly gathered the Jewish villages and told them to bow down to an idol, and then eat the flesh of a pig – both practices that are forbidden to Jews. A Greek officer ordered Mattthias, a High Priest, to acquiesce to their demands, but Mattthias refused. When another villager stepped forward and offered to cooperate on Matthias’ behalf, the High Priest became outraged. He drew his sword and killed the villager, then turned on the Greek officer and killed him too.
His five sons and the other villagers then attacked the remaining soldiers, killing all of them. Matthias and his family went into hiding in the mountains, where other Jews wishing to fight against the Greeks joined them. Eventually they succeeded in retaking their land from the Greeks. These rebels became known as the Maccabees, or Hasmoneans. Once the Maccabees had regained control they returned to the Temple in Jerusalem. By this time it had been spiritually defiled by being used for the worship of foreign gods and also by practices such as sacrificing swine. Jewish troops were determined to purify the Temple by burning ritual oil in the Temple’s menorah for eight days.
But to their dismay, they discovered that there was only one day’s worth of oil left in the Temple. They lit the menorah anyway and to their surprise the small amount of oil lasted the full eight days. This is the miracle of the Hanukkah oil that is celebrated every year when Jews light a special menorah known as a hanukkiyah for eight days. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are lit.
Significance of Hanukkah
Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others have figured out a way to keep their children in the joyous mood of receiving gifts, so they have their own version of Christmas. Similarly, Jewish children receive gifts for Hanukkah – often one gift for each of the eight nights of the holiday. Many parents hope that by making Hanukkah extra special their children won’t feel left out of all the Christmas festivities going on around them. America is an amazing land!
Every community has its unique Hanukkah traditions, but there are some traditions that are almost universally practiced. They are: lighting the hanukkiyah, spinning the dreidel and eating fried foods. Get a Hanukkiah. The most basic thing you need to celebrate Hanukkah is a 9- branched candelabra, called a Hanukkiah (or often a Menorah, although technically aMenorah is a 7-branched candelabra), and candles. Eight of the branches represent the eight nights, while the last one (at a different height, usually higher than the rest) is called theshamash or helper candle, and is used to light the rest of the candles. The Hanukkiah is usually lighted at or right after sunset.