Thursday, December 14, 2006
In the dark days of December comes the wonderful
holiday of Hanukkah, celebrated in Jewish homes.
Originally known as the "Festival of Lights,"
Hanukkah commemorates a miracle that occurred
in 165 B.C., after Judas Maccabaeus and his
followers reclaimed Jerusalem from a Greek emperor
who considered Israel a Greek province.
As part of their rededication ceremony (the word
"Hanukkah" means dedication) the Maccabees
began an eight-day purification rite, only to discover
there was barely enough sacred oil to keep the temple menorah - a candelabrum with eight branches - lit forone day.
Miraculously, the temple lamp burned continuously for eight days. Ever since that time the Jewish people have observed Hanukkah in
remembrance of their struggle for religious freedom
and the miracle of restoration, symbolized by the
abundance of oil.
Many who celebrate Christmas believe that Hanukkah
is a festival reserved solely for those who practice
Judaism. But if it weren't for Hanukkah, we wouldn't be celebrating Christmas.
Had the Maccabees not rebelled against
the Greeks, the Jewish faith would have faded into
Greek culture, never to be heard of again.
No one would have remembered the messianic
promises he claimed to fulfill. Without Hanukkah,
there would have been no Christmas.
Jesus lived his entire life as an
observant Jew. He celebrated Hanukkah as a child;
the Last Supper was a Passover seder. All the apostles
and most of those who became his early followers
were Jewish. The crowds who came to hear Jesus
preach called him "Rabbi," the Hebrew word for
teacher. Perhaps our similarities and heritage are
greater than our differences after all.
The Hanukkah miracle was the
earliest recorded demonstration of Simple Abundance.
Two thousand years ago there was only enough sacred oil for one night.
But all that these faithful, courageous,
and grateful people had was all that they needed.
Sacred oil in a temple. Loaves and fishes on a
mountainside. Miracles are of God, not of any one faith.
Miracles are for anyone who believes.
That is the heart of Hanukkah and the soul of Christmas.
The more we allow ourselves to recognize the wisdom
and truth in other spiritual paths, the closer to
Wholeness we become.
Hanukkah begins at sunset on December 15. After sundown, the first candle of the nine-branch candelabrum (menorah) is lit by a shamash, or service candle, at the center of the menorah. Prayers are said each night during the lighting until all eight candles are lit.
Families sing songs, play games and open gifts. Families eat latkes (potato pancakes) fried in oil to commemorate the "miracle," sufganiyot (jelly-filled doughnuts, also cooked in oil) to remind them of God's sweetness, and dairy foods such as cheese and cream. They gather with family and friends in the warmth of the light shed by the menorah, just as their ancestors did long ago. Happy Hanukkah!
May every heart and every home
Continue through the year
To feel the warmth and wonder
Of this season of good cheer.
Helen Steiner Rice
‘On Ya’ - ma