By Michelle Lebowitz
“Praised are You, Lord, Our God, Ruler of Creation, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.”
“Praised are You, Lord, Our God, Ruler of Creation, Who worked miracles for ancestors during times past at this season.”
This time of year is usually pretty chaotic for our family (and most families, honestly). Between Nutcracker rehearsals and performances, Thanksgiving events, my birthday, holiday parties, and so on, there was little time to sit and connect as a family.
Except for Hanukkah.
My husband, David, was raised in a Jewish family. He hasn’t practiced his faith since his bar mitzvah, but his grandparents were Orthodox Jews, and he does have family members who were killed in Russia simply for being Jewish. So I try to honor that faith and incorporate it into our family life as best as an Episcopalian-raised kid from Dallas can.
Hanukkah is by far my favorite way to do so.
Not because it’s more gifts for Kendall. I did that one year and gave her 8 days’ worth of little trinkets and it was torture. After that year we tried to do things for others, little acts of kindness, but as she grew older, that got harder to do 8 days in a row, so now we collect food to donate.
Instead, I love Hanukkah because it gives us time as a family to settle down. To read the prayers above and below, and to remember family no longer with us. To play with dreidels and have cutthroat battles for the most gelt (chocolate candy). To light candles and remember this is a tradition going back to 165 BCE.
I love our menorah… and there are gorgeous menorahs that are true works of art. But ours is simple, and each candle is labeled. The shamash, the candle used to light each day, is labeled “Celebrate.” The others are Serenity, Laughter, Love, Hope, Joy, Peace, Health, and Happiness, all things to celebrate and pray for this time of year.
It doesn’t happen often because of the changing dates of Hanukkah, but it’s always heartwarming when the 8th night of Hanukkah happens to coincide with the last Sunday of Advent and we have 13 candles blazing between the menorah and the Advent wreath. While a small part of me is terrified I’m going to burn the house down, I love that light. I love the connection to the Jews celebrating a miracle, to those praying for a Messiah, to Christians around the world preparing for the birth of our Savior.
Above all, I love to imagine Jesus celebrating Hanukkah with his family. Maybe not with dreidels and candy and latkes, but with simple candles, remembering the miracle of God providing light. Did he know then he was the promised light of the world?
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them light has shined… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:2,6
Once all of the candles on the menorah have been lit, from left to right, this prayer, “Hanerot Hallu” is recited:
“We light these candles in memory of the miracles, the remarkable events, the redemptions, and the victories which You granted our forefathers in days past through Your holy priests. Throughout the eight days of Hanukkah, these lights are holy. We may not use them for everyday tasks. We may only look at them, so that we may be reminded to offer thanks and praise to Your glorious Name for Your miracles, Your wonders, and Your deliverance.”
I know and respect that Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday, but it has become a favorite way for our family to be together during the Christmas season and remember traditions our Savior would have celebrated. Happy Hanukkah!
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily posts, you can find them all archived here. We hope these devotional offerings are helping you encounter God this season!