Hanukkah begins next week, at sundown on December 2nd. Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is also known as the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the miracle of the oil and is observed for eight nights, starting on the 25th day of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. Around 160 BCE, after the Jewish people in Jerusalem fought and won back the right to practice their religion, they worked to rededicate the Temple, which had been profaned by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Greek King of the Seleucid Empire. To rededicate the Temple, a menorah lamp needed to burn throughout the night every night, but there was only enough consecrated oil left to light their menorah for one night. It would take eight days to make more oil. Miraculously, the consecrated oil lasted all eight nights.
Hanukkah is observed by lighting candles in a menorah, a candelabrum with nine branches. One branch is placed off from the others, typically lower or higher, and the candle placed in it is called the shamash. The shamash is used to light the other eight candles, one for each night that the oil lasted. One candle is lit on the first night of Hanukkah, two on the second night, and so on, until eight candles (nine if you count the shamash) are lit on the eighth night.
Hanukkah is also celebrated by eating food fried in oil, like latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts; playing dreidel, a gambling game using a four sided spinning top; and giving gifts, a practice more common in the U.S..
I really feel the sacredness of Hanukkah when we turn off the lights and kindle the candles in the menorah. A light in the darkness. Warmth in the winter cold. History. Faith. Tradition.
The warm glow of the candle’s flame in the darkness is beautiful and sacred. Even the light of a single candle is a small miracle. By the eighth night, when all the candles on all our menorahs are lit, the room is aglow in a wave of light. I think about how the sacred, the magic, and the spirit are present in the small and singular light of the first night, as well as in the powerful and multitudinous flames of the eighth night, and the fire warms my heart.