Most cultures have had some kind of
celebration of light during the winter solstice. Although not directly
connected to the solstice, the Jews celebrate the feast of Hanukkah, or
Chanukka the Festival of Lights. It commemorates the great victory of the
Maccabees under the leadership of Judah Macca bee over the forces of
Antiochus Epiphanes who, in 168 B.C., tried to destroy the Jewish faith.
After years of fierce fighting, Judah Maccabee was finally able to lead
his troops into Jerusalem in victory. There, the Jews began the work of
purifying and rededicating the Temple, making it once again a worthy house
for the worship of God.
It is told that when Judah’s men were
cleaning out the temple, they found just a single jar of holy oil ... only
enough to keep the Eternal Light before the Holy of Holies burning for one
day. Miraculously, this one jar burned for eight days and nights. As a
remembrance of this joyous occasion, every year in Jewish Home Pages a menorah
(candelabrum) is lit, consisting of eight candles (together with an
additional ‘servant candle’ used to light the rest) which are kindled
on each night of the festival, one candle being lit on the first night,
two on the second, and so on. It has also become a time for the giving of
small gifts, very often distributed on each of the eight nights. Although
not strictly a gift-giver, Judah Maccabee was the instrument for bringing
the gift of freedom and light to the Jews. His victory ensured that the
values of Judaism, which are also the religious foundation upon which
Christianity was later established, would continue to shape and influence
the course of civilization. This would be remembered yearly on the feast
of hanukkah celebrated on the twenty-fifth of Kislev, the Jewish month
which corresponds to the month of December.
Later the Christian Church would
celebrate its own Festival of Lights on December 25, honoring another who
would also be an instrument for bringing the gift of freedom and light to
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