In the Jewish tradition, Chanukah is called the Festival of Lights. We light a special candelabra consisting of eight lights, plus a ninth helper candle. The origin of the holiday is a historical series of events that occurred more than two thousand years ago.
The ancient Assyrian Greeks captured the Jewish Holy Temple in Jerusalem and turned it into a pagan shrine. In 165 BCE, the Jewish army, under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, recaptured the Temple and rededicated it. They relit the menorah in the Temple, which burned continuously day and night, as a symbol of God’s enduring presence. They also enjoined the celebration of this victory annually.
Even today, light is a powerful symbol in our lives. It chases away the darkness. It brightens our homes; it illumines our lives with learning and understanding. Keep in the mind that electricity has only been around for two hundred years and really in our homes for only a hundred years!
Every religion has a festival at this time of the year, which includes lighting lights of some kind.
Judaism also teaches that we must share the light. We place our lights in a window facing the street so that passersby can see them. Just as we can transfer a flame from one candle to another without reducing the light of the original candle, the light of the holiday season must be shared with everyone.
The events of Chanukah took place long before Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was part of the Jewish people of his day, who celebrated the victory of the Maccabees every year. Had the Temple remained a Greek shrine, there would have been no Judaism and no Jewish people when Jesus appeared!
Today, as we Jews celebrate Chanukah, our Christians friends celebrate the birth of Jesus and other friends are celebrating Kwanzaa. Lighting lights is common to all these celebrations. May the light of this season brighten our lives, illuminate our hearts and minds and dispel the darkness that tries to overwhelm us.
May God bless us all with a happy and joyous holiday!