Among the events wrapped into the phrase “Happy Holidays” is the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah. Celebrated for more than 2,000 years and detailed in the book of Maccabees, Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after Antiochus took it from the Jews and used it to create an alter to Zeus in 167 B.C. To stop Antiochus, a man named Mattathias and his five sons planned a revolt.
It was Mattathias’ son, Judah, that led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire, and eventually won back the Holy Temple for the Jewish people. Although Christians don’t celebrate Hanukkah like the Jewish religion does, there are many aspects of the holiday that any Christian should deeply appreciate. Here are just five of them.
1. It reminds us of God’s steadfast love
Antiochus was the ruler of the Greek empire, and his plan was to destroy Jews and their religion. Along with killing the High Priest, Onias III, Antiochus also killed 40,000 people living in Jerusalem. In the end, one man and his five sons led a revolt that overturned Antiochus’ deadly plan and huge empire, thereby showing God’s continued investment and protection over His people.
2. It saved the Holy Temple for Jesus to one day use
God used the Maccabean’s efforts to prepare the way for Christ’s ministry. Without the efforts of the Maccabean family, the temple, where Jesus would one day pray and do much of His preaching, would have turned into a pagan place of worship. They also saved the Jewish people (whom Jesus was born of) from extinction.
3. The story of Christmas begins in the temple
In the first Chapter of Luke, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him he is having a son. His son was to be John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ with his baptisms and teaching. How fitting that both holidays happen around the same time, for the nativity story begins in the Temple that Hanukkah commemorates saving.
4. Judah foreshadows John the Baptist
Some scholars look at Judah and John the Baptist as having a lot in common. While the men lived years apart from each other, they are actually related. Both are descendants of Aaron. Also, both played a crucial part in preparing the way for Jesus.
5. The Festival of Lights
Hanukkah is also known as “The Festival of Lights,” because the Jews light a menorah (a sacred candelabrum) for eight days, adding a new lit candle each day (the middle candle is used for lighting the others). The number eight comes from Maccabees after Judah and his brothers had taken and cleansed the Temple: “Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.” (1 Mac 4:59). Just as we think of Jesus as the light of the world, and we are called to shine our light, the Hanukkah menorah is not so much for lighting up the house for those inside as it is to be a symbol for those who see the light from without.
For a fun song about Hanukkah watch this video by the acapella band, the Maccabeats. The tune will have you singing along as you remember what why this beautiful holiday is celebrated every year.