by Bethany Baldwin
Hello everyone! I'm very glad to be here today. Emily asked me to talk about Hanukkah. You see, my family has, many times in the past, celebrated this holiday, in a way. But as Christians, our perspective on it is a bit different.
Hanukkah came about when, in 164 B.C., a group of Jews known as the Maccabees (led by Judah Macabee) took back Judea from the rule of Seleusids, which were Syrian rulers who supported the spread of Greek religion and culture. In fact, they tried to destroy every trace of Jewish religion. Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a celebration of this recapture, and of the re-establishment of the Jewish Temple. The Maccabees ruled until 37 B.C. when Herod took power.
Hannukah is an eight-days-long festival. It centers around a nine-branch menorah. There was a menorah in the Temple which had seven branches. The menorah for Hannukah has nine for this reason: eight to remember each day of Hanukkah, and the ninth is called a shamus, and is used to light the other candles.
More about Hanukkah's origins: King Antiochus (a Syrian tyrant) was ruling Judea at the time. He decided to go into Jeruselem and take the treasures from the Temple. He also decided to forbid the Jews from keeping holy traditions like the Sabbath, studying their holy books, etc. Just to prove a point, he desecrated the alter by sacrificing a pig on it, something that was unclean. He then dedicated the Temple to Zeus, and forced the Jews to bow to an altar dedicated to this false god under penalty of death. The Holy Temple was desecrated, its treasures stolen. Many people were killed, and those who survived had a heavy tax placed upon them. Antiochus then went on to proclaim himself as God manifest. Much persecution was dealt to those who would not stop following God's laws.
Some Jews fought back, though. A small group of Hasmoneans (Maccabees) under Judas Maccabee took up guerrilla warfare. They drove the Syrians out, and regained control the Temple. They began the task of purifying it. The altar was rebuilt. New holy vessels were made. A date for the re-dedication of the Temple was set for the 25th day of the Hebrew month Kislev, which is the Roman month of December. The Temple was fixed up, made clean, and re-dedicated to God with a celebration lasting eight days. While they were cleaning, they found only one cruse of oil with enough oil to light their lamps for one day. They lighted the menorah with their oil. To everyone's amazement, the menorah miraculously burned for eight days, at which time new oil was available.
It was declared that the re-dedication of the alter should be observed with gladness at the same season every year for eight days. The light of the menorah is a symbol of the light of God. The fact that it burned even when no supply was to be had is a symbol of the eternity of God's enduring word. The true heart of the celebration of Hannukah is the divine experience of the miracle of the oil.
Now I'll talk about a little bit about how my family has celebrated this festival. We call it "Jesus is the light of the world," since the Festival of Lights is celebrating the light of Jesus.
Hanukkah's theme is a miracle. Jesus spoke of His miracles during Hanukkah: If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him. (John 10:37-38).
Jesus wanted people to see His miracles and believe in Him. His miracles point to His divine (and messianic) identity. God personifies the message of Hanukkah in this way... God involved actively in the affairs of the people. Through Hanukkah we are reminded that God is a God of miracles, not just concept and religious ideals. He broke through human history and still does it today. All of us who know God can speak of Him working in our lives.
We like to celebrate Hanukkah because in our eyes, it is a celebration of Jesus! We aren't Jews, and we do not hold to Jewish customs. But we are spiritual Jews through Christ, and He has redeemed us with His love and light. Jesus being the light of the world is a huge theme of Hanukkah. There are three sermons in scripture where Jesus declared Himself the "light of the world." All three were during Hanukkah.
Then Jesus said unto them, Yet a little while is the light with you. Walk while ye have the light, lest darkness come upon you: for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whether he goeth. While ye have light, believe in the light, that ye may be the children of light. These things spake Jesus, and departed, and did hide himself from them. (John 12:35-36)
In fact, it was during Hanukkah or the Festival of Lights that Jesus brought literal light to the blind. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. When he had thus spoken, he spat on the ground, and made clay of the spittle, and he annointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay, And said unto him, Go, wash in the pool Siloam, He went his way therefore, and washed, and came seeing. (John 9:5-7)
I could go into many more details... like how the original story of Hannukah can be compared to the end times, and how Antiochus was a sort of antichrist, and how we need to separate ourselves, but I think I've rambled enough, and will end with a description of our family traditions.
We get together as a family in the evening during Hanukkah, sitting around the table, usually after dark. Dad reads a blessing... blessing the Lord... Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe....etc.
After this we light the candles. We light one more candle each night. On the first night we light only the shamus with which we light the first candle. The second night we light the shamus and two candles, and so on until we have lit all of the candles on the eighth day.
Sometimes we gave presents on the last day of Hanukkah, but oftentimes we just open them on Christmas.
Besides the lighting of the candles, we enjoy playing a traditional Hanukkah name known as dreidel! The dreidel is like a top, with four flat sides around it. (Unfortunately I don't have a photograph to show you as I need to find my dreidel.)
Emily here! This is the only free stock image with a dreidel I could find. Hope that helps!
The four sides have four words of the Hebrew alphabet: nun, gimmel, heh, and shin (Which when put together says A Great Miracle Happened Here). The words are very curious looking, and fun to try to decipher as they are not words in English, but appear as shapes. One looks like the symbol of pi! There is a pot containing chocolate coins (the homemade ones are the best) or anything you like. Each person playing must spin the dreidel. Each symbol means something different, and you must do what the symbol says like give half the pot away, or take it all. It's quite fun. I've heard that the origin story of the dreidel was during the persecution Jewish boys weren't allowed to learn Hebrew, so they would pretend it was a game, but by using Hebrew letters were somehow able to learn. It's all very interesting.
There is so much to be said about Hanukkah! It is wonderful to celebrate Jesus, being a Christian, for eight straight days, and there's something beautiful about seeing the candles lit each night, and spending time together as a family.
This year we didn't follow Hanukkah along the normal calender, but when we get to my sister's home, we are planning to continue this celebration of Jesus being the light of the world!
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6).
Bethany is a contributor for A Pinch of Classy, a blog about modesty, fashion, and everyday living for the modern Christian girl. She loves both the writing and the acting sides of the art world, and can often be found at play practice if she's not typing away at her computer. You can check out APOC on Facebook here.