The festival of lights, Hanukkah (Chanukah), is a time to celebrate good triumphing over evil. It is a time to remember what it means to be courageous, remembering to take strength in your convictions, and to stand up for what you believe in. It is a Jewish holiday that also commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple after the Jews defeated the oppressing Greeks. This year, the celebration starts December 1 and continues for eight nights until December 9.
About 2,000 years ago, the King of Syria tried to unite all the people of Syria into one culture and religion. Judaism was outlawed, temples were destroyed, and Jews were forced to practice in secret. To openly worship meant death. Does this remind you of other religions where people were persecuted for their beliefs? Ultimately, the Jews rebelled and defeated their oppressors.
With victory shining, they returned to Jerusalem. Now it was time to reclaim their temples, their sacred space. The Jews wanted to celebrate their triumph and show everyone that Judaism lived. They looked to light the eternal flame, an oil lamp that burned constantly, that symbolized their eternal devotion to God. The King’s men had destroyed the original lamps along with most of the oil, so the Jews improvised. A small cruse of oil was all they found. It should have lasted only a day, but, by a miracle, it burned for 8 days. The Jews rejoiced knowing that God had seen the courage of their convictions, and He rewarded them with this miracle.
It’s not uncommon for older traditions, such a Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, and other faiths to have some crossover in beliefs and holidays. In this holiday, the common themes of the faithful defeating the oppressors, good triumphing over evil, and light dispelling the darkness can also be seen in other holidays around the world. These same themes can be found in another holiday celebrated in late October to early November – Diwali. It’s another festival of lights! This Indian holiday celebrates good triumphing over evil and intelligence defeating ignorance as told in the story of Lord Vishnu and Bali.
For Hanukkah, starting on the first night, and each subsequent night, a candle is lit to honor each of the eight miraculous nights. The candles serve as a reminder to remain true to your convictions and beliefs. They also serve as a reminder that we are each unique and special, and as a community we can accomplish a greater goal. For it took a community with the common belief that their faith was just as important as anyone else’s.
This is also a time of fun and joy. Although gambling is not condoned in Judaism, children gamble (gelt – chocolate coins) with a small top called a dreidel. During Diwali, people gamble to celebrate the riches of their lives. Both traditions are celebrating the abundance that life has provided.
This year, take time to reflect on the miracles in your life. Remember the gifts that make you special, and share them with those you love. As always, remain true to yourself and hold strong to your convictions.
Happy Hanukkah to you!