My grandchildren go Gah! Gah! as we tour the neighborhood checking out Christmas lights. Some displays are very spectacular. Apart from our Christmas celebrations I am always reminded of Hanukkah, the eight-day festival which celebrates the Jewish struggle for religious freedom. Hanukkah is called The Festival of Lights!
The Hanukkah celebrations in Australia begin Wednesday December 13. Central to this season is the rededication of the second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (160s BCE/BC). Israel begins Hanukkah Tuesday Dec 12 because their calendar for a day starts at sunset.
Just like Christmas, during Hanukkah there is giving and receiving of presents. Much feasting is shared as well.
The spinning of the four cornered dreidel is a beloved feature. On each of the four sides of the dreidel is a Hebrew symbol. In Australia the dreidel will say ‘Nes gadol haya sham’ which means ‘a great miracle happened there.’ In Israel the phrase is ‘Nes gadol haya po” meaning ‘a great miracle happened here.’
Each day of Hanukkah a candle is lit. The candelabra used is called a ‘hanukkiyah’ which is always displayed prominently for all to see.
We Christians like to interpret the candle lighting with the story of Jesus. Each day a new candle is lit using the ‘shammash’ or servant candle. I often refer to the ‘shammash’ as a type of Christ whose anointing lights up candles representing family, education, politics, economics, health, community (embracing racism and ethnic rivalry) and so on.
The Jewish hero Judah Maccabee initiated Hanukkah to celebrate his victory over the Hellenized Jews and the Seleucid Greeks which allowed him to rededicate the Temple. Some histrorians suggest he would not be impressed with the modern-day Hanukkah lights. There are rabbinical authorities who teach the candle-lighting dates back to a one-day supply of oil lasting eight days. However the trusted Jewish source 1 Maccabbees makes no mention of the candles. Therefore there are many who suspect the modern ceremony.
Instead the Hebrew numerology emphasis on the number 8 is preferred. I have previously written about 8 meaning fat or complete in Jewish understanding. Moses held an eight-day dedication when he inaugurated the Tabernacle (Leviticus chapter 8, verses 33 to chapter 9 verse 4) King Hezekiah chose to celebrate 8 days when he rededicated the Temple (2 Chronicles chapter 29, verse 17). Sukkot is an eight day festival.
Historian Josephus explained that Judah Maccabee purified the Temple. ‘When therefore he had carefully purged it he bought in new vessels – the menorah, the table and the incense altar…. And on the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev… they lighted the lights that were on the menorah.”
The report continues: “Judah and the Jews celebrated the restoration of Temple worship for eight days.” Josephus continues: "Indeed, they were so very glad at the revival of their customs…that they made it a law for their posterity that they should keep a festival celebrating the restoration of their Temple worship for eight days. And from that time to this we celebrate this, which we call the Festival of Lights, because, I imagine, beyond our hopes this right was brought to light, and so this name was placed on the festival." (Why do we Really Light Candles on Hanukkah? Elon Gilad,www.haaretz.com.)
Consider the fire and light used in the candle ceremony. They are of symbolic significance for Jews and Christians alike. Fire is a symbol of God’s purifying presence. Moses experienced the presence of God at the burning bush. The Hebrew people survived the desert, led by a pillar of fire by night.
Throughout the Bible transformation is manifested by light. Moses face was covered because of the radiance he displayed. Jesus was said to shine brighter than the sun as He was transformed.
As we drive through the streets and admire the commendable efforts of our neighbours, we are reminded that the light in our lives should be an every day experience.
Throughout the Bible a war between light and darkness is a continuous theme. I like the definition of light that says its brightness allows us to see in the darkness. Light in your life and mine, indicates the saving presence of God which illuminates and lifts us up in the most perilous times.
This year when we observe the brightly lit homes we might discuss words by the Apostle Paul: “For God who said, “Light will shine out of darkness is the one who has shined in our hearts for the enlightenment of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians chapter 4, verse 6)
The song “You light up my life” comes to mind. It is true. Light really shines much better in the dark.
Ron Ross is a Middle East consultant for United Christian Broadcasters (Vision FM). Previously he was an evangelist with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) His career started at WINTV (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Ron Ross previous articles may be viewed at