The joyous festival of lights, known as the holiday of Hannukah, is a celebration members of The Church of Jesus Christ Of Latter Day Saints might consider adding to their calendar….it is a holiday of fun and family that celebrates unwavering faith, God’s miraculous power and, especially, the sanctity and centrality of THE TEMPLE!
The history of Hannukah is found in 1st and 2nd Maccabees, two books at the very end of the Apocrypha. 1st Maccabees relates a relatively straightforward account of the drama that unfolded and is now commemorated with an eight day celebration of light and gift giving, dreidle playing and latke and donut eating.
The story is set in Judea during the Seleucid /Greek/Syrian occupation. In 168 BCE (which is the Jewish term for BC, it means Before the Common Era and is used to correlate Jewish time with the rest of the
world. Traditionally, the Jewish calendar, established by the great Jewish scholar and mystic, Maimonides, dates time from 3761 BCE which is the date when he determined the creation ….our story beginning with Adam and Eve, began.)
Anyway, in 168 BCE, the previously tolerant Greek overlord of Israel was replaced by a Syrian, Antiochus IV. Antiochus IV was determined to wipe out the practice of worshipping one God that was the Jewish
covenant, replacing it with idol worship, Greek customs and reverencing the king. To this end he put idols in the Temple and issued dire decrees warning that refusal to break covenants and follow the
practices of the occupying forces would result in death.
In response, a very devout family, whose patriarch, Mattathias, was the high priest in Judea, refused to
bow to Greek idols or break their covenants. This refusal ended in violence and Mattathias and his family escaped with many other faithful Jews to the surrounding mountains from where they staged a resistance.
Under the leadership of Judas Maccabee, many of the faithful determined to fight rather than renege on their vows to serve the Lord and obey His commandments. And fight they did. From their a superior strategic position, with a relentless determination to fight back and with God truly on their side, this
numerically and technically far inferior fighting force (some say Antiochus sent in elephants…the armored tanks of the 160’s BCE, against the Maccabees) eventually wore down the opposing forces.
After years of fighting, Antiochus just said, “Forget about those pesky Jews and come home.” Now, for the first time in centuries, the Jewish people were in charge of their own country and their own destiny. The first order of business was to clean the Temple, remove the idols that had been set up inside it and then rededicate it to the work of performing sacred temple ordinances. Traditionally, a
lamp with consecrated oil burned continually once the Temple was dedicated. Within the reclaimed Temple walls, a vial of oil was found but it seemed only enough for one day and night.
An envoy was sent immediately to procure more oil but the task took a week. Miraculously, the one day’s worth of oil burned for the entire eight days until new consecrated oil was available. This story lent form and fun to the celebration of Hanukkah…which means, “dedication.” In honor of the eight miraculous nights of
burning oil, a Hannukiah, a special menorah for Hanukkah, which unlike the seven stemmed menorah that symbolizes the nation of Israel, has 8 main spots for oil or candles and one extra place for the candle that lights them all…the Shamash. The Hannukiah is given a place of honor in a window of all Jewish homes during the eight nights of Hannukah.
During the eight nights of festivity, foods fried in oil are enjoyed…especially, delicious potato pancakes called latkes, and also jelly filled donuts called sufganiyot. All fried foods are invited to the feast to celebrate the miracle of the light the Lord allowed to glow without enough earthly oil. Also fun, is the
game of dreidle which is played with a specially marked little spinning top. The story shared to explain the custom of dreidle playing also harks back to the time of Antiochus IV. Since Antiochus IV forbade the study of the scriptures, and sent his troops around to enforce this ban, Jewish scholars and faithful people would feign sitting around their cloth bedecked tables playing a silly little game, gambling with nuts and raisins as they spun a little top we call a dreidle, meanwhile the scriptures were hidden under the table cloths. It’s a good
story to justify a very benign little game of chance that keeps children highly entertained and teaches them four letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Finally, songs are sung and small gifts exchanged on the eight crazy, cozy nights of Hanukkah.
Though considered a minor holiday for centuries, as Jews moved west, Hanukkah became a more and more cherished time of gathering at the end of the Western calendar year. The lights of Hanukkah do not rival those of Christmas but rather join them in illuminating the miracle of the Lord’s love for all God’s children.
Two recipes for making latkes (there are so many kinds, these are the most unembellished and traditional but others are delicious and maybe more sophisticated.)
Easiest way Recipe
Get a box of latke or potato pancake mix at the grocery store ( look in the ethnic specialty area.) Follow the simple directions. Note: you need to add water and eggs to the mix and then let it sit for around 15 minutes, give or take a few, before rolling into balls, flattening a bit and frying.
Homemade Latkes with potatoes and onions.
Also, pretty easy but more work;
- Grate 4 potatoes
- Chop one big onion
- Beat three eggs up with a fork
- Mix it all up together with some salt, pepper, and any other seasoning you might like.
- Form little palm-sized patties, let sit in fridge for a while, then fry on both sides in hot oil until golden.
This year, 2022, Hanukkah begins at sunset on the 18th of December and the last night is on December 26th. Every year the 25th of Kislev is a different day on the calendar we use. Usually it does not coincide so directly with Christmas, sometimes it even coincides with Thanksgiving. No matter when it happens, it is a delightful and inspiring way to honor the significance and centrality of Temple worship to God’s children in times past and, gratefully for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, times present.