The Meaning of Hanukkah

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What is the definition and meaning of Hanukkah? What event does it commemorate? Can Christians observe it?

Hanukkah (which in Hebrew means "to dedicate") is also referred to as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. It is a holiday, lasting eight days, that celebrates the rededication of Jerusalem's temple in 164 B.C. after it was defiled by a pagan ruler.

Cause of Holiday

The events that led up to the celebration of Hanukkah are as follows. In 175 B.C., Antiochus Epiphanes becomes ruler of the Seleucid Empire. His goal is to unite the Greek-related elements of his empire and to force those who do not live based on the Greek culture (e.g. Judea) to do so.

Antiochus, in 167 B.C., commands a pagan altar be placed inside the temple in Jerusalem. Unclean animals like pigs are sacrificed on the altar. A man named Mattathias, who is Israel's High Priest, begins a revolt that would ultimate lead to the celebration of Hanukkah.

Hanukkah Menorah
A Hanukkah Menorah has nine candles
(one candle to light the other eight)

Mattathias dies soon after his revolt starts. His son Judas continues the rebellion and leads the Jews to victory over the Seleucids. The rededication of Jerusalem's temple happens on the twenty-fifth day of the Hebrew month of Kislev (roughly our December).

A Miracle?

Tradition states that although only a day's worth of oil was found for the Temple's menorah, it somehow burns for a total of eight days. This "miracle" is what leads to the yearly commemoration of this event we call Hanukkah.

Hanukkah can be a beautiful time of the year. Many years ago, a letter appeared in a Toronto newspaper regarding this holiday. It stated, "It strikes me as odd, how quickly the Christmas spirit turns on just after Halloween, and turns off on January 2nd. Perhaps Christmas has just become an excuse to do, once a year, what we should be doing all year round: be charitable, connect with friends, and live life . . . But it is nice to come home to the simplicity of the Hanukkah candles."

Period of Thankfulness

There is nothing wrong with celebrating Hanukkah, any more than it is wrong for people to celebrate a Thanksgiving Day. In fact, the holiday might be considered a Jewish thanksgiving festival. If you want to celebrate it, find a family who would be willing to share their festival with you. Interestingly, although it is only mentioned once in the Bible, the eight-day festival is the backdrop of one of the nastiest confrontations Jesus had with the Jews.

Now it was winter, and the feast of dedication (Hanukkah) was taking place at Jerusalem. And Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch.

Then the Jews encircled Him and said to Him, "How long are You going to hold us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly." (John 10:22 - 24, HBFV).

Jesus Celebrates It

The Jews knew Jesus was going to be at the Hanukkah festival and seized upon this opportunity to confront him regarding the claim that he was the Messiah. After a brief discussion, Jesus stated that He and the heavenly Father are One. After hearing what he said the Jews, well aware of what Jesus' statement meant, began to hurriedly gather stones in order to immediately stone him to death (John 10:31)!

The Jews then said to Jesus, after he asked why they wanted to kill him, "We will not stone You for a good work, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a man, are making Yourself God" (John 10:33). Because it was not yet his time to die, Jesus was soon able to escape the wrath of the Jews unharmed (verse 39) during the time of Hanukkah.

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