Today marks the beginning of the 8 day Jewish holiday, The Festival Of Lights, also known as Hanukkah (or Chanukah). Although I am a dedicated Christian, I still feel it is important to acknowledge the Jewish roots of Christianity and honor many of its customs. But to be honest, over the years I was never all that clear on what the Hanukkah celebration was all about. Growing up I got the impression that it was just the Jewish version of Christmas. I knew about the Menorah, Dreidel and the 8 days of gift giving (which I was honestly quite envious of), but I didn't really understand how it all tied together. I found the article, Hanukkah In A Nutshell, from Chabad.org, to explain it quite well. Here is a portion:
Chanukah -- the eight-day festival of light that begins on the eve of Kislev 25 -- celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, of purity over adulteration, of spirituality over materiality.
More than twenty-one centuries ago, the Holy Land was ruled by the Seleucids (Syrian-Greeks), who sought to forcefully Hellenize the people of Israel. Against all odds, a small band of faithful Jews defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of G-d.
When they sought to light the Temple's menorah, they found only a single cruse of olive oil that had escaped contamination by the Greeks; miraculously, the one-day supply burned for eight days, until new oil could be prepared under conditions of ritual purity.
So, what does that mean to those of us who are Christians? According to Susan Perlman, Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, "The purpose of the celebration of Hanukkah is to welcome the Messiah. Peace is the Messiah. We light candles of peace to renew our faith in the ultimate triumph of peace over war. And we rededicate ourselves and our efforts to bringing this about." Still, she points out that although the observance of Hanukkah, unlike Passover or Rosh Hashanah, is not among the festivals required by the Hebrew Scriptures it is still worthwhile to celebrate it. Not merely to pacify Jewish children who might feel deprived because Santa Claus does not deliver to Jewish homes, but because it teaches us about the God of Israel, the God of peace and the God of power. That is something both Jews and Christians can come together on. To learn more, check out the article, Hanukkah: The Light of Two Faiths, and may we all seek the heart of God in this blessed holiday season!