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A primer on Chanukkah

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Posted: Friday, December 19, 2008 10:00 pm

The Hebrew word "Chanukkah" means dedication, and is celebrated for eight days. The Festival of Lights, or Feast of Dedication, begins on the Hebrew dates of the 25th of Kislev through the second of Tevet. This year, the Gregorian calendar sets it at Dec. 22-29.

Chanukkah celebrates the regaining/rededication of the Jewish temple from the Syrians in about 165 B.C. after intense fighting, lead by Judah Maccabee. In 168 B.C., on a date corresponding approximately to Dec. 25 in the Gregorian calendar, the temple was dedicated to the worship of the pagan god Zeus Olympius by order of Antiochus. Judaism had been forbidden.

In reclaiming the temple, there was only enough oil found for one night, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights until appropriately dedicated oil could be obtained.

The Menorah used for Chanukkah has nine lights instead of the usual seven, and is called a Chanukkiah. The center/taller "helper" candle, called the Shamash, is used to light one additional candle for each night of celebration. Chanukkahs vary in shapes/designs and usually smaller in size, as they tend to be personalized for each family member. Traditional Hebrew prayers are recited for each night at the candle lightings.

The dreidel game is played, and small gifts or coins are given to the younger children each night of Chanukkah. The dreidel is four-sided, with one of the Hebrew letters on each side, and is spun to win gelt (foil-covered chocolate coins).

Traditional Chanukkah foods carry out the "oil" theme with Sauganiyots (jelly doughnuts) and Latkes (grated potato, sweet potato or mixed vegetables fried in oil).

John 10:22-23 records that it was winter when our Lord walked in the Jerusalem temple at the time of the Feast of Dedication. For those who follow the traditions of our Lord, it is a time to celebrate freedom to worship, remember the miracle of the oil/balm of the Holy Spirit and rededicate our own personal lives - our "temples" of worship (I Corinthians 6:19).


Maureen Minick


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