Originally posted December 19, 2011, at Healing as a Sacred Path.Republished with permission of the author.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev, which coincides with late November-late December on the secular calendar.
In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.” The name reminds us that this holiday commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Jewish victory over the Syrian-Greeks in 165 B.C., called the Maccabean Revolt.
The Temple 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 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.
Hanukkah and Christmas
According to Jewish law, Hanukkah is one of the less important Jewish holidays. However, Hanukkah has become much more popular in modern practice because of its proximity to Christmas.
This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from Dec. 20-28.
Because many Jews live in predominately Christian societies, over time Hanukkah has become much more festive and Christmas-like.
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.
Every night during Hanukkah members of the family will gather around their menorahs and recite a blessing as part of the candle-lighting ceremony: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and has commanded us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.”
A popular Hanukkah game is spinning the dreidel, which is a four-sided top with Hebrew letters written on each side.
Because Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of oil, it is traditional to eat fried foods such as latkes and sufganiyot during the holiday.
Latkes are pancakes made out of potatoes and onions, which are fried in oil and then served with applesauce. Sufganiyot are jelly-filled donuts that are fried and sometimes dusted with confectioners’ sugar before eating.
In the words of Yehoshua Starrett, a rabbi:
“Hanukkah is not just some celebration of miracles performed in the past. Neither is it just a commemoration of righteous people who lived in the distant past. It is a guiding light for people from all walks of life, from all eras in time, to see through the darkness of their personal lives and to become a part of history.
“It is encouragement for those who face insurmountable odds as a result of personal history.
“It is a declaration that God will perform miracles for us when we courageously stand up for battle.
“It is inspiration for us to be our own Maccabees in waging our inner battle. It is also the knowledge that God is with us, even when we lose the battle.”
Find a link to Karen Hanson’s blog Healing as a Sacred Path at Lutheran Blogs.