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Chanuka: A Festival of Lights Jewish celebrations recount the many struggles, victories and joyous occasions from biblical history. The holiday Chanuka or Hannukah, is a mid-winter celebration of one such victory.
To many individuals studying the King James Bible version of biblical history, the holiday of Chanuka is a mystery. This is due to the fact that the events leading to the holiday are not mentioned in these fragile pages. To learn of the occurrences leading up to the institution of Chanuka, one must read the account in the Book of Maccabees in the Jewish Talmud.
According to Jewish history detailed in the Book of Maccabees, the Greek ruler, King Antiochus, forced dominion over the Jews for approximately 3 years, during which time the laws and principles the Jews lived by where held in great disdain by the King. In an attempt to quash the Jewish faith, the Zerrabable temple was overtaken by the King, and transformed into an abomination of the Jewish faith through the King’s contemptuous actions, such as building an altar to false idols and offering sacrifices of swine. In the year 164 B.C., Judas Maccabee defeated King Antiochus and reclaimed the temple.
After removing the altars and bringing in holy vessels and veils, the purified temple was rededicated to the Jewish faith. A single lamp was lit for the rededication, with only enough consecrated oil to last one day. Yet, miraculously, the oil continued burning for eight days, allowing the lamp to remain lit until new oil arrived to maintainthe flame. It was this occasion that prompted Judas Maccabee to declare the eight days an observation to be held every year in remembrance.
The timing of Chanukah, according to the Jewish calendar, was in the month of Kislev. Normally, this occurs during the month of December on the Gregorian calendar, but does vary. The event can take place anytime from late November to late December. Chanukah will be observed in 2008, for example, beginning December 21 and ending December 29; in 2009, however, the holiday will occur from December 11 to December 19.
Chanukah is also called “Festival of Lights”, “Festival of Dedication”, “Feast of Lights” or the “Feast of the Maccabees”. The holiday is celebrated with the use of a menorah to demonstrate the miracle of the continuous burning of the lamp, as well as with traditional foods and games to remember the occasion. The Chanukiah, as the menorah is called, wears eight branches, one for each night of the festival that symbolize the eight days the single lamp remained lit in early history. During the holiday, the Chanukiah is the focal point of the home.
Gift giving has become a relatively new practice for Chanukah. For many years, children were quizzed upon their knowledge of the Chanukah holiday, and rewarded for their correct responses with “gelt”, or money. This tradition was a way to teach Jewish children the history and meaning of Chanukah in a manner that enhanced the learning process. Over time, the giving of gelt simply evolved into the giving of gifts. The close association between the holiday dates of Christmas and Chanukah also had bearing on the new tradition of gift giving. As with Christian holidays, the importance of gift giving at Chanukah has been overtaking the importance of the holiday’s sentiment and meaning.
To acknowledge and celebrate the occasion of Chanukah is to remember and honor the Jewish history of the victory reclaiming the temple. Keeping these remembrances alive through tradition and celebration is one manner of keeping the Jewish faith alive through the generations and protects the reverent meaning of Chanukah.
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