What we ALL can learn from Hanukkah

While wishing all our Jewish friends a very happy Hanukkah which starts today, it’s worth looking at why this story has lessons we can learn from it – whether we are Jewish or not.

The story of Hanukkah

The Menorah that celebrates the story of Hanukkah

According to History.com“the eight-day Jewish celebration known as Hanukkah or Chanukah commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah, which means “dedication” in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar and usually falls in November or December. Often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday is celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts.”

This small group of Maccabee Jewish people were being bullied by their Greek/Syrian oppressors. Not only were the Maccabees not allowed to practice their religion openly, but also the Greek/Syrian king forced them to kneel down in front of a statue of himself that he had placed in their temple, and worship Greek gods.

The Jewish group decided to stand up to the bullies and fought their oppressors for three whole years. Finally they won, but their temple had been destroyed. Not to be put off they worked hard to rebuild and restore the temple and once it was done, they lit an oil lamp to light up their work and start a celebration.

The miracle, as the story goes, is that despite there being only enough oil in the lamp to last one day, the oil managed to last and light up their celebration for eight whole days. 

Hanukkah celebrations today

Jewish families celebrate with gifts, parties, games, and delicious food. I had the honour of attending a Hanukkah evening a few years ago and couldn’t wait to eat my potato latkes … served with salt beef and salad and rounded off with doughnuts. With the latkes and doughnuts being fried in oil we were upholding the tradition of oil and gratitude for the miracle.

Before eating we sang and spoke Hebrew prayers, and we lit a candle on the Menorah (also known as the Hanukiah or Chanukiah), an eight-branch lamp. Traditionally one new candle is added on each of the Hanukkah days until you have the full complement.

Dreidel – almost a cross between a spinning top and poker dice…

After dinner we played dreidel – a sort of cross between spinning tops and poker dice – which has been the classic game played by Jewish families at Hanukkah for thousands of years.

What are the key points we can take away?

What’s of especial interest here is what we have been looking at in earlier articles about possible common denominators among a wider range of faith and culture groups. To begin with, we can pick up on the common denominator of a festival and light: for example take Hanukkah, and the festival of Diwali? And if you look at this page on Wikipedia you’ll see dozens of other festivals of light that take place all over the world.

Their separate stories are completely different, of course, but their common focus suggests that light is an important human conduit towards:

Reward for hard work
… and many more.

Happy Hanukkah!