So Hanukkah was on the 6th – 13th of December 2015! So I celebrated it! 🙂
Ok, so you must be thinking “Why did you, a Christian, celebrate Hanukkah, a Jewish celebration/tradition?”
Well… a succinct answer is Christianity came from Judaism, Jesus grew up as a Jewish man, so in order to understand Christianity one I needs to connect/re-connect with it’s Jewish roots! You can’t be anti-Semitic and be a Christian.
It is what it is.
What is Hanukkah? (this comes from my nifty Hanukkah handbook)
“Hunukkah is a holiday celebrated for eight days and nights. It starts on the 25th days of the Jewish month of Kislev which coincides with November or December on our calendar. Hanukkah celebrates the Judean triumph led by the Chashmonaim over Assyrian – Greek religious persecution”.
Here’s the story!
“The Syrian – Greek Emperor, Antiochus, made the observance of Judaism a crime punishable by death. He issued a series of decrees designed to force Hellenistic ideology and rituals on the Jewish people. In addition, they defiled the Bais Chashmonaim, waged battle against the mighty Greek army. After the Jews miraculously won the war, they returned to the Bais Hamikdash, only to find that the Greeks had contaminated all the oil. They couldn’t light the Menorah in the Bais Hamikdash. It would take eight days to obtain new, pure oil. After cleaning and purifying the entire Bais Hamikdash, the Jews discovered one jar of pure oil, enough to last only one night. The small amount of oil miraculously lasted a full eight days. To commemorate and publicize these miracles, we light the Hanukkah Menorah on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah.”
How is Hanukkah celebrated?
So the Menorah is supposed to be lit by a window at sundown so people can see what day of Hanukkah it is (I didn’t want to burn the house down so I put it on my desk in my room in plain view in front of my extra screen on my desk lol (don’t worry I checked to make sure there was no heat on the screen!).
On Day 1 you put a candle on the far right and you use the tall candle, the Shamash (on my Menorah it’s the one in the middle), to light the candle. On the 2nd night you add another candle to the left of the first and light the second candle first and the the first candle second. On each night you add a candle to the left and light that one first, then the previous one second and you continue in that fashion till the final night. I found this YouTube video quite helpful (because I am a visual person!) —> https://youtu.be/vDKRxbBt5Lc . Oh and you always light the Shamash each night as well!
So! before lighting the Menorah you recite the following blessings:
Then you linger around the candles for half an hour, sing some Hanukkah songs with your family, share some Hanukkah stories , play a Dreidel game (I didn’t get an opportunity to play this) and enjoy some hot Latkes! (We ate these at church on Sunday after the service, everyone, including me, really loved them!)
How did I celebrate Hanukkah?
I decided to adapt the traditional Hanukkah celebration to reflect my understanding of the Bible and my Christianity.
So with that in mind the first thing I adapted was my approach to the festival. For me, I felt that I had to make sure that I distanced myself from any religiosity, as it says in the Bible in Isaiah 1:11-19
[NLT]  “What makes you think I want all your sacrifices?” says the LORD. “I am sick of your burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fattened cattle. I get no pleasure from the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.  When you come to worship me, who asked you to parade through my courts with all your ceremony?  Stop bringing me your meaningless gifts; the incense of your offerings disgusts me! As for your celebrations of the new moon and the Sabbath and your special days for fasting–they are all sinful and false. I want no more of your pious meetings.  I hate your new moon celebrations and your annual festivals. They are a burden to me. I cannot stand them!  When you lift up your hands in prayer, I will not look. Though you offer many prayers, I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.  Wash yourselves and be clean! Get your sins out of my sight. Give up your evil ways.  Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows.  “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.  If you will only obey me, you will have plenty to eat.
Here we see that God would rather we have pure hearts than adhere to strict festivals or liturgy, it doesn’t mean anything to Him but our approach to life and behaviour day to day does.
The second part of the festival I adapted was the blessings, as I remembered that Jesus said in the Bible Matthew 6:7-8:
[NLT]  “When you pray, don’t babble on and on as people of other religions do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again.  Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!
Therefore, instead of reciting the traditional blessings before lighting the Menorah, I got out my guitar, sat on my bed and sang some worship songs, whichever songs I felt that Jesus wanted me to sing. This meant that things were more spontaneous and I could connect with Jesus in the way that He wanted me to, led by His Spirit. Not that Jesus is opposed to structure, far be it actually, as Paul made clear in his letter to the Corinthians, when discussing their disordered meetings in 1 Corinthians 14:33:
[NLT]  For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.
There is merit in order and prescription but I felt that in this context it was inappropriate for me, personally. Other people may choose the celebrate it the traditional way but I felt that this was the appropriate course of action for me.
The other part I adapted was the lighting of the candles for half an hour. This was for practical reasons, as in the fact that I had to get up and go to work the next day. Basically, I lit the candles on my desk, then watched them from bed lol.
The last part I adapted was the social part of Hanukkah, sitting around with your family sharing stories etc. Again, for practical reasons (work) I decided to share pictures of my Menorah on social media, I just couldn’t stay up lol. However, interestingly enough, a colleague commented on my pictures at work and said they liked them. Also! a childhood friend of mine who happens to be Jewish saw them and got back in contact with me, we had a lovely chat and it was really nice to reconnect, so for that, I am grateful :).
Why did I bother when I adapted it so much?
Again, as I said at the beginning of this post, in order to understand Christianity and the Bible better one must understand it’s Jewish roots. Also, we are supposed to pray for Jerusalem and the Jews too!
Moreover, spending a week praying and singing every evening with Jesus, is that ever a bad thing? The same songs I sang during the week I used at church the following Sunday and the presence of God could be clearly felt. That was because I had spent extended time with Jesus during the week. Giving reification to the following verses in Psalm 51:16-19:
[NLT]  You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering.  The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.  Look with favor on Zion and help her; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.  Then you will be pleased with sacrifices offered in the right spirit–with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings. Then bulls will again be sacrificed on your altar.
Festivals and traditions done with the right approach and an attitude of Godliness can be constructive and beneficial. As it’s coming up to Christmas that might be something to consider thinking about whilst you celebrate? #ChristmasStartsWithChrist remember that!
Here’s what my Menorah ended up looking like. I put it on a little saucer which I got from a charity shop. On nights 1 – 7 I used my mini Menorah hehe! But then I ran out of mini candles lol, so on night 8 I used my medium sized Menorah which I had candles for but I felt that it was a fitting finale having the bigger Menorah!
Love Catherine x