Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday celebrated in close proximity with Christmas, is a festival celebrated from December 12- 20 this year. The festival is older than Christmas as it has been celebrated since the times of the Maccabees about 200 years before Jesus’ birth. Hanukkah is celebrated all over the world by Jews from all countries, including by Messianic Jews and some Christians. A nine-candle menorah, dreidels and fried treats such as latkes (fried potato cakes) and jelly donuts are all a part of the celebration, each for their own reason. Fried treats are eaten in remembrance of the oil that lasted eight days, rather than the day it was expected to. A menorah (or candelabra) also commemorates this miracle in the Temple. Dreidels are a reminder of a time when the study of the Scripture was forbidden. Then scholars would study in secret, using the dreidel as a gambling ruse to cover their study. Children now play with the dreidel for chocolate coins or in some homes, money. Hanukkah is primarily a celebration of religious freedom and a reminder to both trust God and stand for what is right in the view of Chasidic Jews.
The history of Hanukkah
The story of Hanukkah begins with a desecration of the land of Israel by the Syrians, who set up Greek idols throughout the country. Expecting the priest, Mattityahu, to offer sacrifices, the armies instead received a reply, “I, my son and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made to our ancestors.” They destroyed the altar in Modiin and chased off the Syrian officers. Mattitiyahu and his brothers fled to the hills where other friends and men joined them. Waging war against the idolatry, they destroyed the pagan altars in the area of Judea built by the order of Antiochus. Later, Mattitiyahu appointed his son Judah to lead the battles in defense of the Torah and his son Shimon the Wise as his counselor. Antiochus sent more than one general to defeat the Maccabees, as they came to be known, only to see their defeat. He finally sent two commanders, Nicanor and Gorgiash with 40,000 soldiers, some riding elephants. The people came together for prayer at Mitzpah, the same city at which Samuel had offered prayers for Israel long ago. The Syrians were defeated, and the Temple of God was reclaimed. According to the Talmud, a book of Jewish writing, there was only enough usable oil for the menorah to last one night but it lasted eight, just enough time to prepare more. Many others believe that the Maccabees celebrated Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), also an eight-day festival, which was delayed due to the war. In the time of Solomon, the temple was originally dedicated on Sukkot, so this would have been a fitting way to remember both the events. The teachers of Israel decided to add the festival to the Jewish calendar, and it has been celebrated ever since.
Hanukkah in the New Testament
Oddly enough, the one place Hanukkah appears in the Scriptures, either Jewish or Christian, is in the New Testament. John 10:22-42 describes Jesus in the temple in the Portico of Solomon at the Feast of Dedication in the winter. The Jewish people present asked: “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” He rebuked those who asked him, then boldly made his claim to be the Son of God and further made claim to his unity with the Father. With the events leading to the first Hanukkah fresh in their minds, those present threatened to stone him. If they could have proven he was lying, this would have been perfectly justifiable, but they could not. He slipped out of the crowd, and then went beyond the Jordan where many other Jews came to him. They said of him: “While John performed no sign (miracle), yet everything John said about this man was true. Many believed in Him there” (NASB). Dedication to the truth, wherever it may lead one, and in spite of the obstacles, is a prized trait in Heaven. Whether the truth is denied by majority view or is stifled by edict, God reveals it to all who will heed it.
Penni Bulten is a homeschooling mom who is fascinated with the Founding Fathers and their faith. She can be reached at [email protected].