Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah (sometimes spelled Chanukah because there is no direct translation).
In America, Hanukkah is often considered the Jewish version of Christmas with gifts given and games played but the real reason for the holiday is a celebration of God's miracle.
Hanukkah begins every year on the 25th day of Kislev (the 9th month of the Hebrew Calendar) and because the Hebrew Calendar is lunisolar, Hanukkah can occur anywhere from late November to late December in the Gregorian Calendar.
Hanukkah began around 167 BC when the Jewish Holy Land was controlled by the Syrian-Greek ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes who had criminalized Judaism. The tyrant outlawed circumcision, shabbat (Sabbath) services and made even just the possession of the Torah (aka the Old Testament to Christians) a capitol offense. Worse, he defiled the Temple by sacrificing pigs and placing Roman gods inside the Holy of Holies. A small group of Jewish rebels, the Maccabees, fought against the Hellenization and managed to drive out the much larger army.
When the triumphant Jews entered the Temple and found it in ruins, they took some time to mourn and began the process to rededicate it. It took 8 days to rededicate the Temple but there was only enough oil for the Menorah for one day. God made the oil last all eight days and that miracle is what is celebrated every year on Hanukkah.
*Side note: the Temple Menorah had/has seven branches as described in Exodus 25:31-40 whereas the Hanukkah Menorah has nine branches...one for each day and one called the shamash (the "servant" or "helper") which is used to light the others.
On the first night of Hanukkah, only the shamash and one candle is placed on the Menorah. The shamash is lit and then used to light the first candle (the farthest right of the person lighting) and with it the traditional blessing is usually sung. Each subsequent night an additional candle is added and blessing given.
Whether or not you're Jewish, Hanukkah can be a great reminder of the many miracles that God has given all His people. I think it's interesting to note that although Hanukkah began when the Maccabees regained the temple, the fight for independence was far from over, It is, in many ways, reflective of our own struggles. Miracles can and do happen in the midst of our most hard fought battles.
For all our friends and family who celebrate, we hope you have a Happy Hanukkah.
My husband would be disappointed if I didn't add a little Adam Sandler to my Hanukkah post...enjoy...
(I tried repeatedly to find videos I could embed but none of the good quality ones would work so here's a link to the official version of the 3rd edition)