We had some acquaintances from our local homeschool community over this weekend and they noted our eclectic juxtaposition of both Hanukkah and Christmas decor. We have a menorah in the window, a “Happy Hanukkah” sign by our front door, a colorful Star of David cloth spread out on the dining room table, and dreidel with chocolate coins. At the same time, there is a lighted garland around the flower bed, a wire frame snowman by the front door, various decor through the living room, and as you can tell in the picture there’s a collection of nutcrackers, a Christmas tree trimmed out and stockings.
Granted this year is first time to decorate with mixed decor, but it speaks to the place that we found ourselves over the year.
The Reason for the Season
We threw this nonsense out last year as we were putting up our decorations. We had a metal nativity scene that we decided to keep as part of our decor in the living room. Christ never was the reason for the season (consumerism & family time is) and we are tired of pretending. So, why not leave it in the living room as a beautiful reminder all year long? As far as the kids are concerned, we teach them that Christmas time is about coming together as a family and giving gifts because we love each other. Christ was born in the fall, during Sukkoth (the Feast of Tabernacles), and we celebrate his birth during that holiday.
As far as Christmas songs and such, we’ve taught them that anything that points you towards God and what He has given is a very good thing. Sing away to your hearts content! In fact, we have Christmas music playing all the time during this season. Those songs still have truth hidden away in the lyrics and help us reflect on what an incredible gift God gave through Christ.
My wife and I are thoroughly enjoying celebrating the Jewish heritage of our faith and quiet frankly wish there were more Christians who did the same. Our beliefs are forever intertwined and we as Christians have lost a lot through the years by remaining apathetic towards the Old Testament. Celebrating Jewish traditions breathes new life into the biblical stories and stirs us towards His redemptive story, which is why we chose to celebrate Hanukkah this year.
There is a section of scriptures known as the Apocrypha that captured events during the 400 years that passed between the Old and New Testament. Within the Apocrypha, the miracle of Hanukkah story is captured by the Maccabees.
During 2 BCE, Israel had been captured by Greek-Syrian armies, lead by Antiochus. During their enslavement, Jews were forbidden to practice their beliefs (our beliefs) and to study the Torah (first five books of the Bible). The temple was destroyed and many were forced to sacrifice to pagan gods or be killed.
A family known as the Maccabees, including Judas (the most known one), had enough and refused to participate. Ignited by a passion to restore God’s people and his laws, they fled and hid in the caves outside of town to start a revolt. They eventually won and found themselves in the temple. They went to light a candle, but only had enough oil for one day. God found favor on them and the oil lasted 8 days until they could get more. Hanukkah last for 8 days to remember what God did during that time.
The word Hanukkah simply means “dedication” in Hebrew and is symbolic of those who were dedicated to the Torah and God’s dedication to protecting Israel.
The Menorah & the Dreidel
A menorah is just a fancy word for candle holder. There are 9 candles because one candle (the shamash) is used to light the other 8 candles. You light a candle each night for 8 days in remembrance of the Hanukkah story. Traditionally, you also eat oily foods as well.
The dreidel’s were toys used by the Jewish children to continue learning the Torah while it was outlawed. There were markings on each side of the dreidel. As the kids played various games (who could spin it the longest, who could spin the most at one time, etc.) they could be reminded of the Torah. Meanwhile, the soldiers occupying their towns thought nothing of it since they were just toys.
The Hanukkah dreidels have a special letter on each side representing the phrase: “Nas Gadol Heya Sham” or “A Great Miracle was There”.
If you are interested in celebrating any of the Jewish holidays, I highly recommend Aish.com.