HANUKKAH / CHANUKAH – THE FESTIVAL OF LIGHT(S)
Today – 2. December, 2018 – is that start of Hanukkah, or חֲנֻכָּה, meaning ‘dedication’. Like all Jewish festivals, the celebration starts at sunset. This is even more appropriate when the core ritual is lighting candles. You will have seen a menorah somewhere in your travels, with one candle set apart (either in the center or at one end) and eight more candles. We light the singular candle (called the shamash, or attendant), and then use it to light the other candles. Each night, one additional candle is lit by the shamash until all eight candles are lit together on the final night of the holiday.
This ritual symbolizes the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire. The Temple and Judaism were suppressed, and when the Temple was purified and rededicated in 165 BCE there was only enough sacred oil for one day and night – but it miraculously stretched to eight nights, the length of time required to create more sacred oil. Modern Hanukkah rituals include making latkes (fried potato pancakes), and sufganiyot (fried doughnuts filled with jam), plus giving gifts and playing with tops (dreidels). Here’s a wonderful version of Bohemian Rhapsody by Six13 that covers many of these elements:
Now, given that most of my gentle readers and clients are not Jewish, why am I writing about this today? My teacher Dorothy Espiau always said that the Glory of God is intelligence, which is truth and light. We require the flow of divine light to read our own records, and to re-align – rededicate – ourselves with the inner Temple that is our unique divine blueprint of creation. Maybe that’s why Hanukkah always appeals to me – because we always need more light, if only to read our own records.
At present there is a lot of reversion to level four agendas (meaning “if you’re not a member of my country, religion, gender or football club, you’re not fully human and you lie outside my circle of care”). This is especially relevant given that anti-Semitic attacks nearly doubled in 2017; anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia are particularly striking examples of level four Christian hatred and exclusion of other religions, even those built from the same foundation. For a country that has ‘freedom of religion’ built into its Constitution, this is shockingly hypocritical.
For both positive and negative reasons, it’s especially important to remember that December is NOT just a Christian holiday – that there are many ways to celebrate what Ursula K LeGuin wrote about in the EarthSea books as ‘Sun Return’. The symbolism of Hanukkah – the miraculous provision of oil, which brings in more illumination – reminds us that miracles, anointing, and divine revelation are still available to every human being. Plus, as with all Jewish celebrations, there is always generosity and a good nosh.
Therefore, as God Herself says in Genesis 1:3, “Let there be light!” Now, where shall I put the menorah…?