Washington, DC – Holiday Celebrations 3A

Hanukkah, The Festival of Light, begins tomorrow and lasts for 8 days. The National Menorah Lighting Ceremony will be held at The White House, Presidential Ellipse (at the NW end, near Constitution Avenue) each evening at 4pm. The menorah and the National Christmas Tree will share the space.

Traditionally, Hanukkah would start at the sign of the first 3 stars, but as this is practical ceremony, in the midst of a busy city, this time was chosen.

I want to share more of the history of Hanukkah, in the interests of widening understanding.

This is not considered to be a religious holiday by Jews, rather it is an extension of the historic events which happened more than 2,200 years ago, and these events were Humanity’s first attempt at religious freedom. In that sense, this remembrance is for everyone.

Here’s Part 1’s explanation:

As I just said, this is an historical epic, of giant proportions, important to all peoples on the planet. It happened in Judea, now known as the land of Israel, 2,200 years ago.

Hanukkah (Hebrew for “dedication” or “consecration”) marks the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem after serious and purposeful desecration by the Seleucid-Greek (Assyrian / Syrian) force of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The holiday commemorates the “miracle of the sacred oil.”

Twenty-five years into his reign (around 175 BCE), in the occupied land of Judea, (where the Jews had dutifully paid their taxes etc, to their oppressors, but held on to their own religion and traditions), Antiochus IV Epiphanes inexplicably looted the Temple in Jerusalem.

At the same time, Jews were massacred throughout the land, and Judaism became outlawed. Then, in 167 BCE, Antiochus ordered an altar to Zeus erected in the Hebrew Temple.

But, that’s not the end of the matter, by any means! Mattathias the Hasmonean, the Jewish High Priest, and his five sons (Jochanan, Simeon, Eleazar, Jonathan and Judah) led the Jewish rebellion against Antiochus.

Judah became known to history as Yehuda HaMakabi (“Judah the Hammer”).

Also, the Makabi (Maccabee) revolt was sustained for years, which was an amazing accomplishment against the world’s most dominant army!

In 166 BCE, Mattathias died. Then Judah, the youngest, but a brilliant general and tactician, took his place as leader of the Maccabee Revolt. And, by 165 BCE the Jewish war for Religious Freedom was finally successful, against the Seleucid monarchy, the ‘greatest’ army-on-earth at the time.

Then the Miracle happened: at the re-dedication of the Temple, following the victory of the Jewish Makabi fighters, there was only enough consecrated olive oil, in a cruet still sealed by the High Priest, for one day’s light to fuel the Ner Tamid, the “eternal flame”, which must glow above the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. The Ner Tamid symbolizes the Lord’s presence.

Miraculously, the oil burned for 8 days, which was just the length of time needed to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil, for this sacred task.

So, Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights, and is an 8 day Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication.

It is always celebrated beginning on the 25th day of Kislev, a month on the Hebrew calendar, but as Judaism has a lunar calendar, it can fall on any different 8 days between the end of November and the beginning of January, on the secular calendar. This year, it begins December 1st.

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