Primary Current Assemblies
(8–16 December 2012)
Manon Ceridwen Parry
To explain the festival of Hanukkah and to think about what a miracle is for us today.
Preparation and materials
- Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, is an eight-day festival held in November or December. Hanukkah (or Chanukah) is the Hebrew word for ‘dedication’.
The first Hanukkah was celebrated in 164 BC, on the twenty-fifth day of the Jewish month of Kislev, when the Temple was rededicated to God after it had been regained from the Syrian Greeks.
Hanukkah happens at a similar time to the Christian festival of Christmas but there is no connection between the two. The only similarity is that in both light is a dominant symbol. However, some Christmassy practices have crept in to Hanukkah celebrations, especially for Jews living in countries where the culture is predominantly Christian.
The story can be found in the Bible in the apocryphal books of the Maccabees.
- Have a menorah, or a picture of a menorah.
- You will need eight magic relighting candles (can be found in most birthday shops), a way of standing them up so they can be seen, and some water in a jug (to put them out!).
- Some of the special foods of the festival can be used as visual aids – latkes (potato pancakes) and doughnuts (though this isn’t strictly necessary).
- Talk about the festival and its origins. The festival celebrates the defeat of the Seleucid (Greek) empire of Syria. Antiochus Epiphanes, the Greek king of Syria and ruler of the Jews, had tried to destroy the Jewish faith. It was a time of very cruel persecution.
In 167 BC Syrian armies marched into the Temple itself, set up a statue of Zeus and sacrificed a pig. This was particularly upsetting to the Jewish people and went against everything they believed in. There was a rebellion and after three years the mighty Syrian empire was defeated.
- The Jews set about cleaning and restoring the Temple. A new altar was made with new holy objects. For the rededication they wanted to light the eight oil lamps on the menorah, the golden lampstand. When they were cleaning they had found one jar of the special holy oil that was used for the lamps. But then they found that there was only enough oil to last one day.
They lit the lamps anyway, and a miracle happened – the oil lamps burned for eight days. This festival, the festival of lights, celebrates this miracle.
- Because oil is important to this festival, special food cooked with oil is eaten – for example, doughnuts and potato cakes (latkes).
- Light the magic birthday candles. Get a volunteer to come and blow them out (maybe someone whose birthday is around this time).
The volunteer will find that the candles can’t be blown out – they keep relighting. This is why they are called magic candles.
But are they really magic? Someone will have invented these candles and made them work in this strange way.
- Sometimes we don’t understand why things don’t obey the rules of nature. Often there will be an explanation (the maker of the magic candles would be able to explain how they work); sometimes not.
As human beings we don’t know everything there is to know about everything. And what we don’t understand is sometimes called a miracle, a bit like the miracle of the first Hanukkah.
Time for reflection
Light the candles slowly (not the menorah, though, out of respect for the special prayers that are used at Hanukkah when lighting the menorah).
Encourage the children to think about the freedom we enjoy to worship how we want, whatever our faith, and to think about how we can respect one another more.
As each of the eight candles is lit, you might like to name the eight values that are integral to the festival of Hanukkah: love, respect, acceptance, friendship, celebration, fun, sharing, light.
help us to love and respect other people;
to accept them even when their ways are different from ours;
to show friendship to people similar to us
and to people who are not the same as us;
to celebrate our own traditions;
and have fun;
and to show light in our lives.
‘Give me oil in my lamp’ (Come and Praise, 43)