In Judaism, the redemptive power of light is most poignantly present in the celebration of Hanukkah, a winter festival of lights that lasts eight days. This holiday commemorates the time during the second century BCE when Judas Maccabaeus and his family led the Jews against the oppression of Syrian-Greek rulers. After their triumph, they found that the Temple in Jerusalem was dirty and desecrated. They discovered a jar with enough oil to keep the Temple lit for one day. But much to their surprise and delight, the lamp kept going for eight days.
What Hanukkah Signifies:
"We light the Hanukkah candles to remember the miracle that even a small light can dominate a vast darkness. The light represents the holiness that lies within each of us. Eight is a number that signifies 'beyond the normal.' Seven is a complete unit, as in the seven days of the week. Eight is then one beyond completion.
"In lighting our menorah, we ignite the flame in our souls, the spark that cannot be extinguished that will burn not for eight days but for eternity. We place the menorah in our windows to be visible to those passing by, just as our inner light must shine against the darkness of evil and indifference and must kindle the spirits of our fellow humans. The menorah reminds us of the miracle that no matter how dark life may be, there remains a source of light deep inside us. The light in our souls reflects and refracts the light from the One who is all brightness."
— Michard Strassfeld in A Book of Life
To Name This Day . . .
Think about the importance of light in your religious tradition or spiritual perspective, including references to light in poems and hymns.
How, where, and when do you use candles or other lights as a devotional tool? Spend a few minutes every night during Hanukkah with a candle, watching the flickering light and giving thanks for the miracles which have lit up our lives and revealed the Divine grace that sustains us.
Ritual & Ceremonies
After the menorah is lit, many Jewish families sing a hymn and give presents. Potato pancakes and doughnuts are eaten since foods fried in oil to recall the miracle of long ago. Even if you are not Jewish, eat something fried in oil today in honor of this custom.
Art & Photography
Make a dreidel. Spinning a top called a dreidel is a popular game to play on Hanukkah. The children's picture book Jeremy's Dreidel by Ellie Gellman focuses on how this game can bring joy to others. At the back of the book children will find instructions for making dreidels and for playing the dreidel game. Some ideas for unusual dreidels are posted on the Kar-Ben Publishing's Pinterest board.
Read Engineer Ari and the Hanukkah Mishap by Deborah Bodin Cohen, a children's picture book about a devout Jew and a Bedouin who are brought together on this holiday rich with history and meaning.
Read Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Ziefert, a festive overview of this Jewish holiday with excellent little poems and top-drawer paintings. Then try writing your own haiku to capture the essence of the festival of lights.
Go here to see the lyrics.