While many are out shopping for Christmas presents at this time of year, some families in Oklahoma City are finding joy in another cultural holiday, said Temple B’nai Israel of Oklahoma Cities Rabbi Vered Harris. She said Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that closely coincides with the Christian celebration of Christmas, has two different origins.
Both are based on the events of the retaking of the Holy Temple in Israel by the Maccabees after Antiochus desecrated it in 168 B.C.
“The first is that because they’d been fighting during the Biblical festival of Sukkot,” she said. “It was a way of celebrating Sukkot a couple of months after its prescribed time because they missed it while they were fighting.”
The second, she said, has to do with a miracle that occurred while the temple was being restored.
“There’s an eternal light that is always burning in a sanctuary and it had gone out. They wanted first and foremost to get that lit, so they went looking for oil. They only found enough oil to last one day but when they lit it, the oil lasted for eight days, which was the duration of time it took to make more oil.”
The celebration is a post-Biblical holiday, a holiday that is not ordained by God, Harris said. She said there are traditions associated with Hanukkah, but the primary tradition is the lighting of the menorah.
“A menorah [is] a candelabra that has nine branches, one for each of the eight days plus one … candle that’s used to light the other candles.
“So on the first night, you light the leader candle and you light one candle for that first night.
“Then the second night, you light the leader candle and you light two candles, and so on for each of the eight nights.
“That’s the main religious obligation for Hanukkah.”
She said recounting a story of Hanukkah is another tradition, usually the miracle of the oil. Harris said there are also customary foods and some families have the tradition of exchanging presents.
In addition, she said, there are songs, prayers and a game called dreidel, which is played with a four-sided top with Hebrew letters on each side.
“It’s a culturally big deal, but in terms of religious observance, it’s (usually) a pretty minor holiday.
“There’s a couple of special prayers inserted into the regular worship service, but there isn’t a separate Hanukkah service,” Harris said.
However, she said, Hanukkah is considered a big religious holiday.
“Most people consider it to be one of the main ways they express that they are Jewish during the year, I would say. There’s so much going on with Christmas. So when you don’t celebrate Christmas but you do have another fun holiday to celebrate that’s part of your tradition, it’s joyous. And I think people really get into it.”
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