Chanukah is also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. (The word “Chanukah” translates from the root word of “dedication.”)
Chanukah is the eight-day festival that begins on the eve of the 25th of the Jewish month of Kislev (which this year is December 8-17). Jewish people have celebrated the Feast of Dedication, Chanukah, since 164 B.C. They are celebrating two key miracles—a great Jewish military victory and a spiritual triumph in the Temple at Jerusalem. They are commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt in 2 BC.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenizethe people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Templein Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God.
When they went to light the Temple's menorah (the seven branched candelabrum), they found only a single small jar of pure olive oil could be found. Miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity (which typically took 8 days).The religious leaders instituted the festival of Chanukah to commemorate these miracles. At the heart of the festival is the nightly menorah lighting: a single flame on the first night, two on the second evening, and so on till the eighth night of Chanukah, when all eight lights are lit. (The 9th candle is the lighter called the shamash, or the “server” or lighter). This menorah is different than the 7-candle one used for weekly Shabbat (Sabbath) services.
Jesus celebrated Chanukah. You can read about it in John 10:22-23, which says: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the Temple, in Solomon’s porch.” Interesting that we have a recording of Jesus going to Temple for Chanukah but never for celebrating His birth!
On Chanukah the Jewish people also add the Hallel (Psalms 30, 67 & 91) and special daily prayers to offer praise and thanksgiving to God for "delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few... the wicked into the hands of the righteous."
Chanukah customs include eating foods fried in oil -- latkes(potato pancakes) and sufganiot(doughnuts); playing with the dreidel(a spinning top); and the giving of Chanukah gelt, gifts of money to children. Check back on this website over the next 8 days for individual articles on these customs.
As you can see, Chanukah is not the Jewish substitute for Christmas, but a completely different holiday. Both holidays recognize God as being the center and providing for His people. God provided victory and a miracle for the Jews on Chanukah and God provided the birth of His Son on Christmas.
If you live in Orange County, you are invited to a Chanukah celebration at Ben David Messianic Jewish Congregation on Saturday, December 15 at 4 PM. It is open to the public and a free event. Click here for flier.