I know it’s a couple of days late, but I wanted to wish you a Happy Hanukkah. Growing up, I had always thought that Hanukkah was the Jewish answer to Christmas, however, an article at American Catholic Blog (read it here) taught me that there is so much more to the Festival of Lights that is of importance to us as Catholics today.
Firstly, although as Catholics we are not called to celebrate Jewish feasts, we should get to know them if not simply for the reason that Christ was Jewish and these feasts would have played an important role in his own life. Since Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of scripture, understanding Jewish Festivals will help us understand our own Christianity. As St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Colossians:
Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons or Sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)
The tradition of Hanukkah itself is instituted in scripture in the First Book of Maccabees when the Temple was cleansed and rededicated after the Maccabeen revolt:
Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand and these gave light to the temple. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving offering. Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar shall be observed with joy and gladness for eight days. (1 Macc. 4:50,56,59)
To understand the relevance of this Jewish festival for us as Catholics today, we need to understand the context of the temple rededication after the Maccabeen revolt. The Maccabees were a group of orthodox Jews who took on the Hellenised establishment. They wanted to see a return to spiritual tradition and a more pure form of Jewish practices to please Yahweh.
What does this mean to us? All we need to do is take a look around us this Advent season. As the coming of our Lord in Saviour in human form fast approaches, Christ’s birth is symbolized more by a man in dressed in red than a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Instead of bring gifts to the Christ Child, we spend endless hours making up wish-lists to give to others, ensuring our every desire is satisfied.
Although a Holocaust survivor recently ensured me that Hanukkah has become just as commercial as Christmas, we should take a lesson from the Maccabees, who foreshadowed the Light of Christ in rededicating the Temple (which Christ embodied himself), and return to a purer celebration of the spirit of Christmas.