Hanukkah! Even the most sophisticated, secular Jewish person cannot help feeling merry when Hanukkah rolls around. Who wouldn’t? It’s a celebration that combines the unique blend of history and faith that has sustained the Jewish people throughout the centuries. Plus, it’s simply a ripping good story of an underdog standing up to a bully and teaching him a lesson.
Taking a Stand for the Lord
The bully in question was Antiochus IV – a descendent of Seleucus, Alexander the Great’s general, who ruled over the region that included Israel. Antiochus IV was a vicious and brutal despot and forbade the Jewish people from practicing their faith. He also desecrated the Temple by carrying out pagan sacrifices there.
The underdog was, of course, the Jewish people – led by the priestly family of Mattathias. His son, Judas, earned the nickname Maccabee – the Hammer – for he pounded the armies of Antiochus IV until they were soundly beaten. The recapture of Jerusalem and the rededication of the Temple in 164 BC was the triumphant moment that gave birth to Hanukkah – the Feast of Dedication.
As legend tells us, a single cruse of holy oil burned in the Temple for eight days until more could be procured. Each of the eight nights of Hanukkah, a candle is added until all eight candles of the hanukkiah(candleholder), plus the shamash (servant candle), burn brightly in the windows of Jewish homes throughout the world.
Hanukkah is celebrated beginning on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev. While Christians traditionally give gifts on Christmas, many Jewish people give gifts on all eight nights of Hanukkah!
Like most Jewish holidays, Hanukkah has its own special activities and foods. One of the most popular activities is spinning the dreydl, a tradition that originated in Germany. The dreydl is like a top with four sides. Each side has a Hebrew letter that together form an acronym for the Hanukkah proclamation, “A Great Miracle Happened Here” (or “There,” if you are outside of Israel).
You can spin the top and play for matchsticks – or else gold coins! Well, not really gold, perhaps, but chocolate coins covered in gold foil. You can’t spend them in stores, but they sure taste good! Another tasty Hanukkah treat is latkes – fried potato pancakes. Eat them with applesauce or sour cream. Either way, they’re delicious!
The candles of the menorah remind us that the Eternal Light of God pierces through every darkness. They also point us toward Jesus the Messiah who said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).
If we will accept Him, His light will burn brightly in us, making us beacons of His love, power and peace in this troubled world.