So, I'm having a Chanukah party on Friday night. You're all invited. If you don't know where I live, and would like to come, email me at my gmail.com address, juleannwakeman, and I will send you directions. Unless I have no idea who you are, in which case I will send you a polite reply indicating that I am not exactly comfortable sharing my address with complete strangers. Although it's probably on the internet somewhere, along with my social security number, so crafty crashers could probably track me down, and convince me that they are me.
I wanted to celebrate Chanukah last year, but I didn't start my research until it was too late to really do much about my complete ignorance of the holiday. This year, I started sooner, and have managed to pull together at least a partial understanding of what Chanukah is all about.
First of all, a bit of background about me, and why the heck I want to celebrate Jewish holidays. I was raised in a Christian tradition, and to be honest, don't have any major problems with the Christian tradition in which I was raised. In college, however, I met a girl whose family was Jewish, but had converted to Christianity. She introduced me to Passover, and I fell in love with the Jewish roots of my Christian faith.
I have a few gripes, now, with the historical institution of Christianity. Like, the Crusades, for example. And with those church fathers whose anti-semitism got in the way of their better judgment and who decided that the Jews killed Jesus so we should sever all ties to their faith. I have some more modern gripes, too, like with those "Christians" who kill doctors in the name of life, but that's another post for another day.
But the fact of the matter is, Jesus was a Jew. He was a really good Jew, too. He was in Jerusalem for all of the major Jewish festivals, he knew his Torah inside out when he was only 12 years old, and he was even a rabbi. He was revolutionary, yes, because he rejected the legalism of the judaism of the current day. But everything he said was grounded in the Jewish scriptures or his own authority as the son of God. Nothing he said was inconsistent with the Law, although many things he said were diametrically opposed to the current pharisaical interpretations of the Law. And the Bible describes converts to Christianity as being grafted into the Jewish tree (see Romans 11), not as some brand new plant. So if you're a Christian, you're really an adopted Jew. How's that for a paradigm shift?
When Jeremy and I started on the long process of reattaching four thousand years of tradition onto the front of our faith, we started with the "holiest" holidays. We've been celebrating Passover for five years, and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for about three. As far as holidays go, those are the Christmas and Easter of the Jewish religion. Chanukah is one of the best known Jewish holidays, but the prominence that Chanukah has gained in Jewish tradition has more to do with its proximity to Christmas and Jewish parents not wanting their children to feel left out of the flurry of Christmas excitement than with any major significance in the religious calendar. As festivals go, Chanukah is definitely more of a Feast of St. Billy Bob than a Christmas.
But, it is in the Bible. And, in the Jule Ann Theory of Valid Excuses to Party, I am entitled to celebrate any holiday that Jesus celebrated. And he celebrated Chanukah, the Feast of Dedication, in John 10:22. And perhaps it's not a coincidence that everything Jesus says in this Chanukah section of John 10 seems to be about miracles. Because Chanukah is all about miracles.
So, I'm having a Chanukah party on Friday. It starts at 6:00, which is arguably a little bit late for our latitude, because it means it will already be dark when we light the candles, but people have to work and I need to give them time to get here from work. And I don't have a 20-page script for it, like I do for Passover, because really, it's more of a family fun holiday than a heavy ceremony. There are three blessings to be sung over the candles, which I managed to find beautiful, free mp3 versions of on the IKAR website. (Full text of the blessings can be found here, in transliterated Hebrew and English.) We might sing some Chanukah songs, or we might not. There are some really nice recordings on the IKAR site as well, but I don't know if I'll have time to learn them well enough to share. Maybe I'll just play the recordings. I am a really big fan of the Ocho Kandelikas song, and the second version of Maoz Tzur (sheet music here). For some reason, I have not been able to track down an mp3 version of "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah", which is somewhat odd to me, since it's one of the best known songs, but perhaps it is of the "Jingle Bells" variety of Christmas songs, and therefore not on the religious sites.
We will be eating at least two kinds of latkes, and possibly jelly doughnuts if I can track down a Jewish bakery. We will be playing with dreidels, which fits into my exception to gambling games which goes something like, "gambling is allowed when the money is edible." I usually only gamble once a year, for candy at Hallowe'en, but I guess I will now be adding a second annual gambling event to my repertoire. The rules for the dreidel game can be found all over the internet, but here is one such link, which also has a link about the origins of the dreidel, which are pretty interesting if you care about such things.
And that's it. I expect I'll end up telling the story of the Maccabees and the rededication of the temple, because people always ask about it, but mostly, it's just a party. With candles. To celebrate a miracle, which is a pretty good reason to celebrate, if you ask me. And now, I'm off to see if I can find a menorah anywhere the day before Chanukah begins...
(If anyone is interested in the more logistical side of Chanukah, like the order in which to light the candles, here is a really good, basic introduction to Chanukah.)