Although for many of us December is the Christmas season, it is not the only holiday celebrated at this time of year. December is also the season of Hanukkah or Chanukah. The word derives from the Hebrew word for dedication.

Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas, but a holy day in its own right. The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the First and Second Maccabees. Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria ruled Israel in the second century BCE. He desecrated the temple in Jerusalem by erecting a statue of Zeus. Using largely guerrilla techniques, the Jews managed to drive the Syrians out and took back the temple. History.com says, “According to the Talmud, one of Judaism’s most central texts, Judah Maccabee and the other Jews who took part in the rededication of the Second Temple witnessed what they believed to be a miracle. Even though there was only enough untainted olive oil to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply. This wondrous event inspired the Jewish sages to proclaim a yearly eight-day festival.”

The heart of the festival is the menorah, with candles being lit each night. The first night one candle is lit, the second two, and so on until all eight are lit. Special blessings are recited, and traditional songs are sung. Since the Chanukah miracle involved oil, it is customary to eat foods fried in oil, specifically latkes, or potato pancakes. It is also customary to play with a dreidel (a four-sided spinning top bearing the Hebrew letters, nun, gimmel, hei and shin, an acronym for nes gadol hayah sham, “a great miracle happened there”). Today gifts are also exchanged, though traditionally money was given to children both for their use and to give to others.

Quotes about Hanukkah

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame. Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.–Hannah Senesh

May the lights of Hanukkah usher in a better world for all humankind.–Unknown

Chanuka is about the spark of the divine in all of us made in God’s image.–Suzanne Fields

The darkness of the whole world cannot swallow the glowing of a candle.–Robert Altinger

On Hanukkah, the first dark night, light yourself a candle bright. I’ll you, if you will me invite, to dance within that gentle light.–Nicholas Gordon

Praised are You, Our God, Ruler of the universe, Who made us holy through your commandments and commanded us to kindle the Hanukah lights.–Unknown

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.
–Emma Lazarus

The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light – in a little cruse – lasted as long as they say; but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day: let that nourish my flickering spirit.–Charles Reznikoff

We have focused on the miracle-thing and I think we often overlook the message of Hanukkah.  To me, the core of the holiday is the cleaning of the temple…. The accomplishment was in restoring the temple to the purpose for which it was built.  Now think of the temple as a symbol.  Perhaps it represents my life.  The world has tried to use me for its own (perhaps good, but none-the-less extrinsic) purposes.  But now I can rededicate myself to my own original purpose.–Ralph Levy,

… and May This Festival of Lights bring Blessings upon you and All Your Loved Ones for Happiness, for Health, and for Spiritual and Material Wealth, and May the Lights of Chanukah Usher in the Light of Moshiach and a Better World for All of Humankind.–Hanukkah blessing

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