8 Views on Hannukkah from Israel and Palestine
The Festival of Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, is a minor Jewish holiday that is often dwarfed by the excitement and magic of Christmas in the Western world. In Israel, though, Hanukkah is the main (and only) winter holiday for Israeli Jews, and in recent years it has become increasingly commercialized (perhaps as a response to the lavish Christmas celebrations in other areas of the world). Children are home from school for over a week, people indulge in deep-fried foods, and kids beg their parents to take them to expensive plays and activities. For those who can look past the external features and materialism, there is rich symbolism and significance that can be found in this Jewish holiday.
While Hanukkah is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), it is mentioned in the book of John 10:22-24, and is presumably a holiday Jesus celebrated as well. Hanukkah originated in the celebration of the 2nd century BC Jewish victory (led by the priestly Judah Maccabeus) against the Hellenistic Seleucid Empire (and their Hellenized Jewish allies). Jews highlight the importance of the successful cleansing and rededication of the Temple after its defilement by the pagan Hellenists – hence the name Hanukkah (dedication). According to legend, when the Maccabees liberated the Temple they found just one vial of oil that they could use for the golden lampstand, but miraculously, it burned for eight days. As a result we have Hanukkah, the eight-day festival when Jews light the hanukkiah, the eight stemmed candelabra.
Here are some thoughts from our regular bloggers on this festival. From what we do and don’t know, and how some of us celebrate, it’s just a slice of the multicultural nature of Israel and Palestine. It’s a big mix of ideas, neighbors who don’t necessarily know about each other’s customs, some finding elements of significance, others finding it somewhat alluring but mundane, and yet others not noticing that anything different is happening at all.
Please bear with me as I truly know nothing about Hanukkah. If I do know some things, they are only peripheral. It seems like a tradition, a fun time for kids, where they light candles and walk in the streets. I think there are a lot of candles that people light around Hanukkah, and maybe they have a special cake? But why does Hanukkah exist? I am not sure really. I guess I have chosen to be ignorant about this holiday because I have never felt equal to the other side. When I receive permission to leave Bethlehem during the Christmas season, and when I come to Jerusalem, I see blue lights everywhere, but not Christmas lights in the streets. I haven't really been interested, because I have my own concerns, my own life to live, most of which is not in Jerusalem. In the West Bank we know nothing of this holiday, we see nothing of this holiday. So you see, I really know little about Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is a family tradition, and whether or not it happened as contemporary culture remembers is unimportant to me. Since my girls were little, they got a small gift every night. After lighting the menorah and singing songs from the Siddur, maybe having people over for a dinner that included potato latkes, it would be present time. Sometimes socks, or a chocolate Santa or chocolate coins. One year I gave them a book each night that I had ordered from Better World Books (used books recycled to raise money for African literacy - great charity/business). Needless to say, that was not the girls' favorite Hanukkah. It's not a huge holiday with us, but it is a bit of fun in the middle of winter.
I was first introduced to Hanukah during university. I got a day or two off to celebrate. However, I never did celebrate it. All I know is kids get to play with dreidels and shops sell donuts at this time. I don’t like the strawberry fillings that much; I prefer the buttermilk filling. This holiday has to do with a miracle of lights during the Jewish exile, and I know that it is not mentioned in the Bible. Maybe that is why we never talked about it at church…
I love Hanukkah. It’s a holiday without too much fuss. There’s no big meal to prepare. It’s relaxed, festive, fun. I love the lights in downtown Jerusalem, the musical performances in the Old City, walking around and seeing the menorahs and lit candles flickering in windows. The typical Israeli jelly stuffed doughnut is disgusting, but over the past few years we’ve seen a wonderful introduction of gourmet fare doughnuts. The children love the food, the songs, looking at the lights, and spinning the dreidels as long as they can.
In the evenings we gather to sing from the prayer book, light some candles, and spend a few calm moments sitting together. It’s a time to connect with old traditions, recall barbaric/hopeful stories of the past, express thankfulness for God’s intervention in the past and present, and when it’s black and damp and cold, it’s a reminder that the smallest of candles can cast light in the darkness.
5. Tootsie Pop
During a Jerusalem December, we hardly get the feel of Christmas. No festive Christmas lights, no Christmas carols, and generally no "white Christmas." If you don't look for Christmas in Jerusalem, you probably won't find it. However, what we do see is a lot of blue lights, blue menorahs (candle-holder looking things). If Hanukkah came at a different time of year, I don't think I would mind it so much. But to be honest, I feel a little jealous that in my city, Hanukkah gets so much more attention than Christmas. To me, Christmas is the celebration of my Savior's birth. What I know of Hanukkah from my Jewish friends is that it's a minor, less significant holiday in Judaism. I do know that Hanukkah is about a miracle God performed for the Jewish people (I think during the Roman occupation?) when they were running out of oil for their lamps. Whatever the reason is to celebrate Hanukkah, if it's a holiday that gathers family and friends around the same table or in the same house, it's worthy of being celebrated.
My experience of Hanukkah is fairly limited as I was only introduced to the holiday a few years ago. However, since then I have come to appreciate a really well-made sufgania (doughnut) - not the cheap ones but the truly good ones. I think one of the most meaningful elements of Hanukkah, though, is the symbolism of the menorah being a light from within the house to illuminate the darkness outside, celebrated in the midst of the darkest season of the year. This carries with it a universal message that we are all called to carry light into a world plunged in darkness. This light comes from within to illuminate our surroundings, even in the darkest season.
I like Hanukkah as it involves lots of lights at night and people’s windows look pretty. I also like doughnuts, especially with the icing on (800+ calories each....I looked it up).
Because I cannot find Christmas tree chocolates to hang on my tree, I tape a thread onto the chocolate coins people eat and give one another called Hanukkah gelt. These coins have a Jewish Menorah on them so my Christmas tree has gold Menorahs saying the State of Israel on it.
When my children were young, they used to make and then bring home Hanukkiah(s) they had made in art class at school. To honor their art work we used to light them at the end of the week . Fortunately, they would fall to pieces and they ended up in the bin.
Hanukkah is about light shining in the midst of darkness, overcoming oppression, keeping your identity, and remembering. Although Hanukkah is an extra-biblical feast, nonetheless we celebrate it as a matter of tradition and for its symbolic value. We celebrate the light of God in the dark season of the year, remembering that Yeshua is the light of the world and as his followers we too are called to be light, however dark our surroundings.
It reminds us of the value, and the cost, of standing against oppression that leads to assimilation and loss of identity. Our children are an integral part of all our celebrations and Hanukkah is no exception. Children love this season with its spinning tops, sweet donuts, gifts and songs. Each day during Hanukkah the light increases as we light one more candle until the menorah (candelabra) is fully lit. My favorite song of this season says: We’ve come to cast out the darkness, each one is a small light and together we are a great light. May darkness flee before the light!