I grew up in a small community with a limited number of Jewish residents. Two of my best friends in school were Si and Mark, both of whom were Jewish. The odds benefited me, it would seem. I was the recipient of knowledge about Judaism that many of my friends never received. I was fortunate.
Not only did I attend their Bar Mitzvahs, but I also had the privilege of being a part of their families as they observed the traditions of their faith on a regular basis. That included the observance of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, which comes in the calendar just before our Christian celebration of Christmas. I learned to envy the fact that they received 8 gifts, one for each of the evenings when they lit the candles on their menorah, an 8 branch candelabrum seen above.
The story of Chanukah is one to which contemporary “celebrations” have been added over the years. But the origin of the festival relates to the ancient observance of the rededication of the second Temple in Jerusalem, following a very negative period at the hands of the Greeks.
According to tradition as recorded in the Talmud, at the time of the rededication, there was very little oil left that had not been defiled by the Greeks. Oil was needed for the menorah (candelabrum) in the Temple, which was supposed to burn throughout the night every night. There was only enough oil to burn for one day, yet miraculously, it burned for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil for the menorah. An eight day festival was declared to commemorate this miracle. Note that the holiday commemorates the miracle of the oil, not the military victory: Jews do not glorify war.” *
Chanukah, which is spelled differently in a variety of ways according to the particular Jewish tradition of one’s family, is a solemn celebration on one hand, and a festive celebration on the other. The lighting of the candles, accompanied by prayers, is a solemn commemoration of the freedom of the Jews from the abusive hands of the Greeks. But it is also a festive celebration, including songs, dances, gifts, and games. In contemporary America, it is often (falsely) seen as a “Jewish Christmas.” It is a coincidence that the two celebrations occur in the same month. While there is a positive character to the cross-faith celebrations (including many Jews who now add Christmas trees to their homes and Christians who observe the 8 days of Chanukah with candle-lighting ceremonies) it is important to remember that they are very different festivals with very different origins.
For more information on this colorful festival, I suggest you read the materials I found in a website called Judaism 101. It does a far better job of describing the holiday than I can, and it is in the details of the origin of the festival that many of the most significant facts are found.
To all of my Jewish friends: HAPPY CHANUKAH!
Illustration Credit: www.netanimations.net