As a family we have been exploring the Hebrew festivals and celebrations. What a blessing and insight this has given us!
This year, for the first time, during our year-end celebrations, we’ve celebrated Hanukkah. This is not a “biblical holiday” – in that God didn’t instruct His people to follow it but it was created by the Jewish people in a time between the testaments. We do therefore see Jesus go up to Jerusalem to celebrate this Jewish Festival of Lights – John 10:22-23.
The story goes that after Alexander the Great died his kingdom was divided and Antiochus Epiphanes took over Jerusalem in 176 BCE Judaism was outlawed and the temple was desecrated. An image of Zeus was erected and a pig was slaughtered on the alter. Any Jew who did not bow down and worship Zeus or continued to practice Judaism was murdered. A small band led by Judas Maccabeus conducted gorilla warfare upon the Greeks until they were able to reclaim the temple. They then spent time restoring the temple and building a new alter. Once everything was ready for the re-dedication of the temple – exactly 1000 years after the first temple was dedicated – it was found that there was not enough oil to light the menorah, which was to burn day and night. There was only enough oil for one day and it would take another eight days to produce more oil. However they lit the menorah with the oil they had and it miraculously stayed burning for the full eight days! Hence the Jews spend this time celebrating the miracle of God’s provision and they rededicated themselves to Him. It is also thought that this festival maybe where Christmas derived it’s date from as the Jews celebrate Hanukkah on 25 Kislev, and Kislev is the closest month they have to December. Therefore the early Greek or Roman church may have used this date to create their own festival to celebrate the birth of Christ.
I’ve just stumbled across this great review on some books to read to your child during Hanukkah – you’ll find these book for sale in our store.
As Christians however this time has a far deeper significance. Firstly Jesus is the light of our lives, the word is the lamp to our feet and we are the light to the world – so this celebration reminds us as we rededicate ourselves to the Light that we too are to keep burning for him. Looking at when Jesus and John the baptist were born, it is suggested by some that Jesus, the light of the world, was in fact conceived during the festival of Hanukkah.
As we didn’t have a menorah to light we’ve created our own one with tea-light candles and a bigger “servant candle.” Before supper each night we light our candles, says the blessings and then read through Psalms 114 -118, which often results in us wanting to sing songs of praise! We then enjoy dinner together – which we are adding a special pudding to every night as a treat. Hanukkah is a family holiday that is celebrated with joy and love. As we have said the blessings – knowing that thousands of people are saying the same blessings at the same time and that in fact thousands of years ago on this day Jesus too said these blessings – we have stood in awe as to how partaking in this festival has deepened our own and our children’s understanding of how Jesus is the light of the world.
We love Christmas. It is such a special family time that allows for us to re-look at our basic believes, celebrate family and helps us train our children in the art of giving.
I still have the desire to do a full-out Christmas of giving to the poor and lonely on Christmas day but with little people this has not yet been a reality. Therefore we spend time focusing on giving to family and close friends. This involves every child making gifts for others.
As a family we’ve decided to separate Christ’s birth and St Nicholas. We therefor celebrate st Nicholas day – in our own family way – on 6 December. This has been great as St Nicolas was an amazing man and his life teaches our children to give. This sets the tone for our festive season.
This year we added the celebration of Hanukkah which happened to fall over Christmas and this too has helped us focus on Jesus as the light of our lives.
Finally we celebrate Christmas by making our own Christ centered decorations, we make Christmas crackers, our Christmas cake, cards and gifts. On about the 16th December we go tree hunting and spend an evening putting up our tree – which is a whole adventure in its self. Christmas day then begins with stockings, us going to church, Christmas cake and gift giving and which is then followed a huge family-lunch.
It’s taken us 10 years to formulate what works well for us, how to keep Christ the focus and how to have relevant fun activities running through out this time of year and with that we have created many fun family traditions and memories that will last for ever!