Isn't it convenient that the letter H comes up the very week that Hanukkah starts this year! One of the challenges of celebrating Jewish holidays is that the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar and the Gregorian calendar (that's the one you're used to) is a modified solar calendar, so the two don't really line up . . . AT ALL . . . that means that the Jewish holidays "float" quite abit on the Gregorian calendar. Most years Hanukkah is in December, that's how it's come to be thought of, rather inaccurately, as the Jewish Christmas. The first year we celebrated Hanukkah, Christmas fell during Hanukkah. Another year, our anniversary (at the beginning of December) was during Hanukkah . . . this year, for the first time since 1888, Hanukkah and Thanksgiving line up! AND, while I've seen various calculations on when it will happen again, they've all been well over 10,000 years from now, so not gonna happen in any of OUR lifetimes!
So what is Hanukkah? Hanukkah is an English version of the Hebrew word for Dedication. The holiday is also called the Feast of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. John 10:22+ talks about Jesus being at the Temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication, so while Hanukkah is never commanded, it IS mentioned in the Bible.
Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the temple by Judas Macabee after Antiochus IV defiled it by worshiping pagan gods and sacrificing to them, in the temple. Jewish tradition states that only enough consecrated oil for one day could be found. The lamps were lit, and the oil burned for 8 days. Hanukkah commemorates those 8 days.
The Hanukkah Menorah (candlestick) consists of 9 candles or oil lamps. One is the "servant" candle, and is used to light the others. On the first night of Hanukkah, the servant candle lights one other candle, on the second night, 2 candles, and so on, until all 8 candles are lit on the final night.
Traditional Hanukkah foods include latkes (potato pancakes) and jelly donuts. These and other foods cooked in oil, remind us of the oil in the temple menorah.
So how, and why, does our family celebrate Hanukkah?
For several years I had wondered about celebrating the Biblical holidays. After all, while portions of them pointed to the (then) coming Messiah, other parts commemorated past events and still others point to Messiah's second coming. Perhaps God wants us to continue these holidays . . . and then, 2 or 3 years ago, it hit me . . . I don't have to study and determine if we are REQUIRED to celebrate the Biblical holidays, my kids LOVE any excuse to celebrate, there is most certainly nothing WRONG in celebrating them, so why get hung up on whether or not we "have to"? Why not just embrace a fun way to worship and celebrate God's amazingness! And so, that fall, we started with the Feast of Trumpets, and have never looked back. We don't stress about doing everything "right", we worship God and enjoy extra time with Him and with family!
Hanukkah was never commanded in the Bible, it is strictly a commemoration of God's providence and love, and it is a wonderful, fun way to remember exactly that.
A few weeks before our first Hanukkah, I walked into Goodwill, and came out with a menorah (pictured at the top of this post) and candles to go with it. In this darkest time of the year, it is so fun to light candles each evening and watch them flicker and burn low. By the next year I had read the suggestion to give small gifts themed gifts each night of Hanukkah, and discussed with Lexie and Ashlyn, whether they'd rather receive Christmas gifts from us (as we'd done in the past), or the themed Hanukkah gifts. They chose Hanukkah, and when given the choice the next year, chose Hanukkah again. We enjoy lighting the candles, reading the nightly Bible verses as well as Hanukkah books, along with our Christmas books, when the two overlap, making latkes and going out for donuts . . .
The "themes" of the gifts remind us of God's provision . . . one night is something to do with light - that might be fun glow-in-the dark toys, or small flashlights, or a candle (for the older girls) . . . some year, when money allows, I plan to get each of the girls a pair of Shabbat candlesticks for when they are grown and on their own. Another year I'd like to get them each a Menorah. This year, since we sometimes walk home from the neighbors' house after dark, I'm giving them each a small flashlight of their own, and, as a gift to our whole family, a miniature menorah for the times when we end up travelling during Hanukkah.
Another night, as is traditional, we give to those in need. Throughout the year the older girls save a percentage of their allowance for charity, and during Hanukkah, they decide how to use that charity money.
Hanukkah starts tonight at sundown, so Happy Hanukkah to you!
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