Hanukkah begins next Sunday, December 6, and Jews who observe the holiday will light one candle that evening, two candles the next night, and so on for eight days. On December 13 the menorah (a nine-stemmed candelabrum) will be fully lit, eight bright candles plus one called the shamus candle in the center.
This year the holiday comes a bit early, due to the peculiarities of the Jewish calendar. Kids like the fact that they not only get to light the candles and sing songs, including “Rock of Ages,” but also receive a present each day. Coins (“Hanukkah gelt”) are popular, though usually they’re made out of chocolate.
By the end of Hanukkah, Christians around the world will be stringing their Christmas tree lights. We all know the origin of Christmas, but some people may be a bit hazy about Hanukkah. According to Jewish legend, the Maccabees defeated a wicked king named Antiochus and recaptured the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd century BC I’m sure it’s just a coincidence, but Antiochus was the King of Syria.
When Judah Maccabee and his band of brothers entered the holy temple, there was only enough oil to provide light for one day. Miraculously, the candles stayed lit for eight days, which explains the length of the holiday. It also explains why the holiday is called the “Festival of Lights.”
The Christmas season has already started, with Black Friday behind us and the coming weeks filled with travel plans and rechecking our lists. Stores will be crowded, super markets will sell egg nog, and holiday songs will be on the radio. I still like Bing Crosby’s version of “White Christmas,” and I’m not alone. It’s the best-selling single recording of all time.
When I was young, my father indulged us, and we had a Christmas tree, complete with bulbs, tinsel, lights, everything but a cross. We might have put a Star of David at the top and pretended it was a Hanukkah bush, but I can’t swear to that. This year, our twin grandsons will be with us, and we will have a Christmas tree. I wish I knew what became of the decorations we had in Claremont.
We all hope that this time of year will be one of peace on earth, good will towards men and women. Unfortunately, hope and reality do not always coincide. It has been three weeks since the terrorists attacked Paris and killed 130 people. In another November, 1938, Nazis attacked homes and businesses in Germany and Austria, smashing windows and killing Jews. It was called Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass.” I’ve noticed that history has a way of repeating itself.
The holiday lights should remind us not only of the Maccabees’ victory and the Prince of Peace, but also of those who lost their lives in Paris. We might want to light a special candle for the people of Paris, La Ville Lumiere, the “City of Lights.”
When we light holiday lights this month, whether for Hanukkah or Christmas or both, we will likely hug our children and grandchildren a little tighter. On December 25, however, I plan to put thoughts of our unsafe world out of my mind and recount my blessings.