Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel. This phrase is perhaps the only thing many of us know about Hanukkah. Contrary to popular opinion, Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas. In fact, Hanukkah’s roots are even older than Christmas is. Hanukkah is a beautiful celebration of God’s faithfulness and has a wonderful story behind it.
The story of Hanukkah can be found in 1 Maccabees. When Alexander the Great overtook the Middle East, he sent governors who oppressed the Jewish people. They desecrated the Temple by slaughtering pigs (unclean animals according to Jewish law) on the alter and dedicated it to Zeus.
Most of the Jews felt helpless in the face of the Greek juggernaut, but there was a group of men, called the Maccabees, who refused to stand for the atrocity. They attacked the Greek soldiers and regained control of the Temple. In order to purify it, they needed to burn purified oil on the Temple lampstand. Unfortunately, the preparation of the special oil took eight days, and they only had one day’s worth of oil to burn. They decided to take a step of faith and burn the oil. The next morning, the lampstand was burning low– but the oil jar was full once more! Each day for eight days, the jar was miraculously full in the morning. On the last day, when the new oil was ready, the jar was empty.
This story is not wonderful simply because God worked a miracle by renewing the oil. It is wonderful because it reflects God’s heart for His people. By providing the oil and allowing the Temple to be purified, God made a way for His people to have a place to worship Him and connect with Him. He wants His children to have a relationship with Him.
I am not Jewish; I believe that Jesus Christ fulfills the Messianic prophesies of the Old Testament. I believe that He is the one who is called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” But I also think that any holiday that celebrates God’s goodness is worth observing, so I light eight candles on Hanukkah each year.
I made a menorah a few years ago, but I left it back in Phoenix. So, this year, I set up nine tea lights on a shelf and raised the center one using the cap of some glitter spray I used. Unfortunately, tea lights don’t last nearly as long as miraculous Temple oil, so tapers would be a better choice in the future. Still, it looks pretty.
It is traditional to eat food fried in oil during Hanukkah to commemorate the Temple oil. Latkes are especially popular during the holiday. So, I decided to make some!
Latkes are basically potato cakes. All you need to make them is chopped onion, shredded potato, and some salt, a little flour, egg, and oil. Heat the oil one inch deep in a pan. Mix all the other ingredients together, form into balls, and press into pan to create a pancake shape. Fry until golden-brown.
From a Christian perspective, Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so every Jewish holiday points directly to Jesus Christ. Passover points to His death and resurrection, Day of Atonement points to His self-sacrifice for our sins, and Hanukkah points to the privilege of relationship with God that Jesus gives to us. During the Maccabean Revolt that instituted Hanukkah, God gave His people the ability to seek Him in the Temple. Because of the death and resurrection of Christ, God gave us something even greater. Matthew 27:51 says that “at that moment [that Jesus died on the cross] the curtain of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” The temple curtain was an incredibly thick, heavy cloth that separated the Holy Place (where Jewish men could worship) from the Holy of Holies (the place where God allowed his presence to rest; the place where only priests could go. When the curtain was torn, the barrier between us and the presence of God was removed. The removal was not just a physical one. The tearing of the curtain was a representation of the removal of the barrier between God and man. Jesus’ sacrifice broke the sin barrier between us and God. Now, we can have direct access to God. Just as God was willing to work a miracle to allow the Jews to connect with Him again in His Temple, He was willing to offer the unthinkable so that now everyone may connect with Him from anywhere.