Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Happy Hannukah

Our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Hannukah. It began on sundown on December 11th and continues for eight days. It is one of the lesser Jewish feasts and is more popular today because it is so close to Christmas. Catholic and Orthodox Christians should mark the festival because in their bibles they have the story of the Maccabees (not accepted by the Jews as part of their Scriptures).

The word "hannukah" (Hebrew) means dedication, and the feast marks the re-dedication of the Jerusalem Temple after it had been liberated by the Hasmoneans. It had been defiled by being used as a place of worship of foreign gods, and by ritual practices such as the sacrifice of swine. The Jewish troops wanted to purify the Temple by burning oil in the Menorah (lampstand) for eight days. Unfortunately there was only enough oil for one day. They used this anyway and to their suprise it lasted through eight days. This miracle of the oil is celebrated using a special menorah called a hanukkiyah (or chanukkiah). This candleholder has a central candle set above the others, and this is called the shamash (helper). This candle is used to light the others. One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second, and so on, until eight are lit. They are lit from left to right with the newest candle being on the left. This is to show that the first night is no more important than any other. The hanukkiyah is usually placed in a window so that those passing by will see the light and be reminded of the miracle of the oil. It is forbidden to use this special candlestick for any other purpose.

Another practice is the spinning of the dreidel (a four-sided top bearing Hebrew letters), and eating fried foods (because of the importance of oil!). The dreidel game was popular during the rule of the pagan Antiochus. When Jews gathered to study Torah (against the pagan law at that time), they brought a top. If soldiers came, they would hide their scripts and pretend to be playing a gambling game with the top. The letters on the top used today stand for the phrase, "Nes Gadol Haya Sham" ("A great miracle happened there") In Israel the last letter is different ("A great miracle happened here"). The game is played for gelt (candy)
Because the celebration of Hannukah is connected with religious persecution, Christians could light a menorah in memory of Christians (and people of other faiths) who are not able to worship freely or who have been imprisoned or maltreated because of their faith. It is also a reminder to all people of faith that God cares about us and that He is the source of all light and in Him we find our true and lasting freedom. So, Happy Hannukah!

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