This year the evening of December 16th marks the beginning of the 8 day Jewish celebration of Hanukkah (or Chanukkah) also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. Each night a candle is lit on a special candelabra called a menorah. The menorah has 9 branches – four on each side of a central branch. The 4 on each side hold the Hanukkah candles that are lit each night while the central branch is known as the ‘helper’ or the ‘attendant’ and is used for practical purposes as the Hannukah lights are only to be used for meditating on Hanukkah.
The celebration also involves the saying of traditional prayers, the giving of gifts and the eating of oily foods such as doughnuts.
The festival commemorates an incident during the Maccabean revolt. In 175 BC the Seleucid (Greek-Syrian) Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Judea and outlawed Judaism. In 167 BC he built an altar to the Roman God Zeus in the temple at Jerusalem and sacrificed pigs there. These actions led to a Jewish uprising led by a family known as the Maccabees. The revolt was successful in 165 BC and a Jewish Republic was established. The temple was rededicated. However, the story goes that there was only a limited supply of consecrated olive oil available to fuel the menorah in the temple – enough only for one day. The menorah was supposed to burn both night and day. Miraculously, this one day supply lasted eight days – long enough to harvest, press and prepare a fresh supply of oil. The eight days of the festival are in remembrance of these eight days of light.
As the candles are lit three prayers are said:
- Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to light the lights of Chanukkah. (Amen)
- Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who performed miracles for our ancestors in those days at this time
- Blessed are you, Lord, our God, sovereign of the universe who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this season (Amen)
So, does this Jewish tradition have any relevance to Latter-day Saints? There are a number of things we could ponder:
- It gives us a little glimpse into Jesus’ life as this is a celebration that Jesus participated in during his time (In John 10:22-23 Jesus goes to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Dedication).
- The celebration is centred on the temple. It doesn’t commemorate the victory over Antiochus Epiphanes but the dedication of the temple and the miracle of the oil
- It is a celebration of thanksgiving as evidenced in the text of the prayers.
- Prayer is an important part of the celebrations
- The ‘helper’ branch of the menorah is always higher than the other branches symbolising the importance of service.
- The gifts that are exchanged are traditionally carefully selected to illustrate Jewish values.