The Jewish people will be observing Hanukkah this year beginning with the first light on December 18th, lighting one more candle for eight nights.
Here’s an excerpt from Finding Jesus in Judaism on the feast of Hanukkah:
In 171 B.C., the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes (nickname Madman) began to attack the Jewish way of life. He forbade the study of Torah and many traditions such as circumcision. He demanded that the Jewish people bow down to him. He desecrated the Temple, sacrificing pigs on the altar and dedicating the altar to false gods including Zeus. He murdered an estimated 40,000 Jews and sold 10,000 more into slavery.
The Jewish people formed a small army under a man named Mattathias. A battle lasted for three years under Judah Maccabee (meaning hammer), and miraculously, he brought the Jewish people to victory. They made their way to the second Temple, where they restored and rededicated it. This is the holiday of Hanukkah that is still celebrated by the Jewish people today. You will even find in John 10:22 that Jesus observed this feast: “Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.”
Hanukkah means “Rededication” and is celebrated to remember when the Temple was rededicated after it had been desecrated. It is also a holiday celebrating a great miracle. When they were cleansing the Temple, they could not find oil to relight the “Ner Tamid” (eternal lamp which always remained lit in the Temple). Alas, they found some oil that they thought would last for one day, but it burned for eight days – enough time for them to purify more oil!
The book of Daniel prophesies about the story of Hanukkah in Chapter 8. A leader would persecute the Jewish people and magnify himself, but he would be broken by God’s power, not by man’s power.
In modern observance, Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting a Hanukkiah (a nine-branch menorah) – one more light is lit for each night of eight nights to recall the miracle of oil lasting for eight days. The ninth candle is the “shamos” or “servant” that lights the other candles. This is the reason Hanukkah is also called “The Festival of Lights.” We also eat “potato latkes” fried in oil to remind us of the oil (a good excuse to eat them, I think!). Gifts are exchanged as well. In my family, we get one gift for each night. I think this is why a lot of Gentiles think this is the Jewish Christmas!
The dreidel game is played on Hanukkah and has been played by the children since they were persecuted in ancient days. They played in secret as they were not allowed to practice their faith. The dreidel is a spinning top with four letters – “Nun,” “Gimel,” “Hay,” and “Shin.” These letters stand for “Nes Gadol Haya Sham,” which means “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Today, the dreidel is played with money, candy, or prizes.
New Testament Fulfillment: Isn’t it awesome to think that Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah in the same Temple that had been desecrated and rededicated!
Yeshua is indeed the great “Shamos” – the ultimate Servant who sacrificed Himself, and the Light who brought us eternal life - “the Light of the world.” (John 8:12) Just as the Shamos lights the other candles, Yeshua gives us the Light we can share with others!
Hanukkah is a time of rejoicing, reminding us of the deliverance of the Jews from the Syrians. If Antiochus and his men had overtaken the Jewish people, the Jewish people would have been annihilated. Jesus would not have been born if the Jews were all gone! “The miracle of Christmas could only take place after the miracle of Hanukkah!” (God’s Appointed Times by Barry Kasdan)