Here Comes Hanukkah, Festival of Lights
Sunday, November 28th is the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah/Chanukah/Channuka (it's a Hebrew word with no "right" English spelling, though it should always have eight letters to match the eight days of the festival). It is the only holiday we celebrate that does NOT have biblical roots since the historical events that led to this festival occurred after the events marked in the bible (the Old Testament), though the New Testament mentions it when Jesus attends the "Feast of Dedication."
Hanukkah falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev but since the Jewish calendar is based on the moon's cycles, it seems to move around on the secular calendar. Sometimes it falls late in December, overlapping with Christmas.
However, Hanukkah is NOT the Jewish Christmas, though both holidays involve bringing light into the world and for the modern world, often gifts. Gift-giving is actually not a traditional part of Hanukkah and only made its way into American Jewish homes in the last 100 years or so, following the commercialization of Christmas. Jewish families started giving gifts to their children as a way to feel more included in this country.
Hanukkah celebrates the victory of a tiny minority, fighting for the freedom to celebrate their religion in the face of a cruel tyrant who tried to force them to convert. The ruling Syrian Greeks forbade Jews from practicing their religion, forcing them to pray and study in hiding. Their soldiers literally destroyed the holy temple, defiling it with idols and other unholy things. A small band of Jewish revolutionaries organized and fought back, eventually conquering the much larger Greek army. The story is a somber reminder that still, not all are free to worship without discrimination. It also reminds us of the amazing resiliency of the Jewish people, who have battled discrimination, hostility, and persecution for thousands of years...yet here we stand.
I hope that each of us will do our part to bring more light into the world...for only light can banish darkness.
Here's a short video with the basics of the holiday, if you'd like to learn a little more.