For the first time ever this year, we are celebrating Hanukkah.
And it has added some wonderful joy, faith and activities to our Christmas celebrations. Did you know that there is a reference to Hanukkah (also known as the Feast of Dedication) in the gospel of John? Jesus, in John 10, has just been identifying Himself as the gate for the sheep, and as the Good Shepherd; the One who lays down His life for his sheep. Those hearing him are quite divided on who Jesus is, and who He says He is. In The Message translation, John 10:22-24 reads as follows:
They were celebrating Hanukkah just then in Jerusalem. It was winter. Jesus was strolling in the Temple across Solomon’s Porch. The Jews, circling him, said, “How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you’re the Messiah, tell us straight out.”
in both the NIV and NAS versions of the Bible, Hanukkah is referred to as “The Feast of Dedication.” Although Hanukkah is not one of the specific feasts required for Jews and detailed in the Torah, clearly it was being celebrated during Jesus’ time. And of course, Hanukkah’s origin came in post-Alexander the Great Israel, following the rule of Antiochus Epiphanes; in 165 BC.
I didn’t know much about Hanukkah prior to our family’s celebration of it this year. But as we’ve celebrated, I’ve learned a lot!
The Miracle of Hanukkah
4 Jewish brothers, the Maccabees, led a revolt against the rule of Antiochus, who’d demanded that the Jews abandon their prescribed worship of God and instead, forced worship of the Greek pantheon of “gods.” The Maccabees, and others, fought for several years against the Greek-Syrians and won a miraculous victory. They rededicated and cleansed the temple yet discovered they only had one day’s worth of consecrated oil for the Temple’s menorah. It would take a week to prepare another day’s oil. But in the meantime, the one day’s oil continued to burn…and burn…and burn! For eight days!
The Hanukkiah, or Hanukkah Menorah
I have wanted a menorah for years, but I’ve tended to think of it at Christmas and forget about it immediately after. So Jackson and I decided to make one! There are a lot of directions for Hanukkiahs online and on Pinterest, but we chose to use a clay recipe that we’ve used for other Christmas projects. (I have a post on it at Christmas Crafty Fun: White Clay Ornaments.) It’s a simple, bake-able clay that is perfect for Christmas ornaments but also worked beautifully for our Hanukkiah. It only has three ingredients: water, baking soda and cornstarch. You stir them together in a pan and eventually they form a ball that you can use (after it cools) for crafting. The clay is very smooth and white.
First we formed it into little cubes and one larger oblong rectangle. That rectangle forms the shamash, whose candle is used to light the other candles each night during Hanukkah. Then, we pressed candle holes in each holder using a Hanukkah candle, so the candles would have a place to go.
We baked these at 175 F for about two hours. But I checked them every half hour and turned the cubes, because they’d harden on the top and the bottom would still be damp. Just keep checking and turning (and don’t forget to set the timer!). The shamash, of course, took the longest; but it finally hardened and I put all the candle holders on a cookie rack to cool overnight.
The next day, Jackson and I painted them. We used silver, white and blue acrylic and tempera paints. He selected silver for the shamash, and white and blue for the rest of the candle holders. Then I used a hot glue gun to glue the pieces together, in alternating colors.
Here’s what it looked like on the first night of Hanukkah. The tallest candle is the shamash, and the second one is lit for the first night.
We were introduced to the dreidel game by Jackson’s piano teacher and her family. This game also dates back to the Greek-Syrian occupation of Israel. My friend L. told me that the Jews couldn’t openly worship in the temple with the Syrian guards, so they pretended to gamble, spinning a top and using their coins. Actually, they weren’t there to gamble, but to pray!
The dreidel top has four sides, each with a Hebrew letter; nun, gimel, hay, shin. You spin the top and, depending on what side appears, you win or lose. But the letters have a deeper meaning! Here’s what it means: “A great miracle happened here.”
You use gelt, or chocolate coins wrapped in foil, as the coins you win or lose.
This year, we also made latkes, or potato pancakes. These are part of a traditional Hanukkah meal, because the oil they’re fried in symbolizes the miracle of the oil in the Temple. I found this latke recipe on AllRecipes.com. I ended up changing it a bit here and there so that it would make more, but it was simple to make and quite delicious! We truly enjoyed them, but I’d have to say Jackson loved them the most. They included two of his favorite foods: potatoes and eggs!
If you’d like to explore more about ways Christians can enjoy Hanukkah, you can find lots of resources online. We used Traditional Hebrew Blessings for Chanukkah from Hebrew4Christians.com.
Tonight, we’ll be celebrating the last night of Hanukkah and Christmas Eve. This has been such a beautiful addition to our holiday celebrations. There is something very special, sweet and holy about the lighting of these candles and the reciting of the blessings. I’m reminded today of two Scriptures:
- First, Romans 11, where Paul describes the Gentile believers as wild olive branches, grafted into the cultivated olive tree which is Israel
- And second, John 8:12. When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Happy Hanukkah…..and may the Light of the World shine in your home!