Hanukkah (also known as Chanukah) is the Jewish Festival of Lights that lasts eight days. It usually falls in late November or December. In 2018, Hanukkah will begin on Sunday, December 2nd and finish on Monday, December 10th.
The History of Hanukkah
Jews celebrate Hanukkah to commemorate the Miracle of the Oil. The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication.” Over 2000 years ago, in 165 BC, the Jews in Judea rebelled against their Syrian ruler, Antiochus, because he insisted that all Jewish people must worship Greek Gods. After three hard years of fighting, the Jews defeated Antiochus and, to celebrate, they restored the Temple of Jerusalem—which had been taken over by the Syrians—and rededicated it to their God.
As part of the celebrations, they lit an oil lamp which should have been kept burning all the time, even though they could only find enough oil to keep it burning for one night. But a miracle occurred, and the oil lamp stayed lit for eight days, which was the time it took to make new oil for the lamp. This was the Miracle of the Oil.
It was then declared that every year, Jews would remember the day with an eight-day Festival of Lights and celebrate the miracle of the oil by placing eight candles in a Menorah (a special candlestick) and lighting one candle for each evening of the celebration. Today electric lights are sometimes used, especially where an open flame might be dangerous, such as a hospital room. The Hanukkah lights are meant to remind those walking by the home about the holiday’s miracle, so the Menorah is displayed at a prominent window or near the front door.
During Hanukkah, people exchange gifts and give to the poor and needy.
Blessings and Prayers
The best-known custom of Chanukah is the lighting of the candles. At the candle-lighting ceremony, the shamash (serving candle) is lit, taken in one’s hand, and the following blessings recited or sung:
Baruch atah adonoy eloheinu melech haolam asher kidshanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’hadIik ner shel Chanukah
Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who made us holy by giving us His commandments and has commanded us to light the Chanukah lights.
Baruch atah adonoy eloheinu melech haolam sheasah nisim laavoseinu bayamim ha-heim baz’man hazeh
Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who performed miracles for our ancestors in long-ago days, at this season.
On the first night of Chanukah only, the following prayer also is said:
Baruch atah adonoyi eloheinu melech haolam shehecheyanu v’kiyemanu v’higianu laz’man hazeh
Blessed are You, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has given us life and health and made it possible for us to celebrate this day.
The candles are now lit. The last candle to be put in place is always lit first.
Other prayers of thanks to God recited or chanted as the candles burn are “Ha-nei-rot Ha-la-lu” and “Ma-oz Tzur” (Rock of Ages). Here is a simple rendition of the first:
We kindle these lights because of the miracles, the wonders, and the winning battles You carried out for our ancestors in those long-ago days, at this season, at the hands of Your holy priests. Throughout all these eight days of Chanukah, these lights are special, and we are not permitted to make use of them. We may only look at them in order to give thanks to Your great Name for Your miracles, Your wonders, and the marvelous things You have done.
Celebrate Hanukkah With Scouts
Even Scouts who are not of the Jewish faith can show respect for Judaism by learning about Hanukkah and the Miracle of the Oil.
The National Jewish Committee on Scouting has created a series of basic religious services and resource guide made for all interested parties. These resources are intended for use on campouts, in a Pack, Troop or Crew setting or as a Scout observance at a religious institution. They can be freely adapted to any specific situation any time of the year.
Teach your Scouts about Hanukkah as a special Duty to God lesson this time of year. You can get all kinds of resources, including recipes, songs, games, and devotionals, HERE.