HOW TO CELEBRATE HANUKKAH
~ Keren Hannah Pryor
Ancient Jewish writings describe a delightful exchange between God and His people:
ISRAEL: God, You illuminated the whole universe and then tell us to light the menorah?
GOD: The little lights of your menorah are more precious to me than the lights of all the stars I have placed in the sky.
For You light my lamp; the Lord my God illumines my darkness. (Psalm 18:28)
What generally comes to mind when one thinks of Hanukkah,especially if you’re a child, is the lighting of many candles, gifts, fun games, sizzling latkes (grated potato fritters) and mounds of big, sugarcoated, jelly, chocolate, or caramel-filled doughnuts! Not a bad beginning (except for the waistline), but these are merely the trimmings. Probably Yeshua did not have these things in mind when he celebrated this “Feast of Dedication,” as it is also called (John 10:22). There is a profoundly rich spiritual core to the festival of Hanukkah; the ‘fun’ elements, however, help imprint the spiritual truths in the minds of the young and can certainly also be enjoyed by the not so young!
A wide assortment of hanukkiahs (special nine-branched Hannukah menorahs), as well as candles, are available for purchase on any Judaica website, or they are very simple to create at home. For example, one can use Play Dough, or bottle caps stuck on a wooden or cardboard base and painted, and birthday cake candles. Or simply arrange eight tea lights on a tray and add decorations. The ninth shammash, or servant, candle should be higher than the others or set slightly apart, to the front or side.
A lovely modern glass Hanukkiah.
A selection of old brass hanukkiot from the collection of Avraham Ticho.
WHEN TO LIGHT?
The candles are usually lit at nightfall but, if it is necessary to wait for family members to gather, any time during the night is fine. The main consideration is to have as many of one’s family, as well as friends, together as possible to enjoy the experience on any given night. Ideally, the candles should burn for 30 minutes; during which time no work should be done – and the TV should be switched off! The blessings are said, songs can be sung, gifts given, food enjoyed and games played. It’s time to remember and celebrate the miracles of our God and to appreciate the miracle of one another.
WHERE TO LIGHT?
A major lesson of Hanukkah is one that Yeshua illustrated well in his teaching:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
In Israel, many people light candles outside their doors in special glass boxes built to house their hanukkiah. The beautiful one pictured below, of the lion and the lamb, was seen in the Old City of Jerusalem.
More often the hanukkkiah is lit in a window indoors and facing a public street if possible. If for some reason the hanukkiah cannot be lit at a window, it may be lit inside the house on a table, where its light shines forth upon the members of the household.
Note: As the Hanukkah candles should be left to burn down each night, you will need a total of 44 candles – 36 plus 8 shammash candles.
HOW TO LIGHT
On the first night, place the shammash in position and one candle at the far right, as you face the hanukkiah. Light the shammash, recite the first two blessings, and use the shammash to light the candle. Then say the third blessing and prayer, followed by a song – Ma’oz Tzur, or one of your choice.
The first two blessings are said after lighting the shammash and immediately prior to lighting the candles:
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Hanukkah light.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who made miracles for our forefathers, in those days at this season.
This blessing is said on the first night only.
Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, Sheh-heh-chi’yanu ve-ki’yimanu Ve-higi’yanu la’zman ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the universe, Who has kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
Hanukkah Prayer – Al Hanissim
For all the miracles you perform and for Your great salvation in Yeshua, and for the victories in the battles that You enabled our our fathers to achieve years ago at this time, we thank You God, our Father.
In the time of the Maccabees, when the evil Seleucid kingdom rose up against Your people Israel to make them forget the teachings of Your Torah and to lead them away from Your will, You in Your abundant mercy stood up for them in their time of need. You delivered the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few, the wicked into the hands of the righteous. And for Your people Israel You caused great victory and salvation on this day. Then they turned to Your Sanctuary and cleansed Your Temple and relit the lights in Your Holy Place. You kept the lights burning for eight days, and they established these eight days of Hanukkah in order to thank You and to praise Your great Name. 
After lighting the candles and reciting the above, it is a stirring and heartwarming experience to sing together in praise of our God and Lord. Ma’oz Tzur (Rock of Ages) is the traditional song that is sung, if known (worth learning if not). Others come to mind, such as ‘Light of the World, You Stepped Down into Darkness’ or ‘Thy Word is a Lamp unto my Feet.’
On the second night place candles in the two far-right positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light the candles, lighting the left one first.
Note: Always light the newest candle first.
On the third night place three candles in the three right hand positions. Recite the first two Blessings after lighting the shammash and use the shammash to light them in order, from left to right.
Follow this same procedure each night of Hanukkah… until all the lights are kindled and glowing brightly on the eighth night!
The Al Ha’nissim prayer can be recited and Ma’oz Tzur sung each night after lighting. A good tradition is to make time to read a special, inspiring Hanukkah story aloud each night. A selection of eight Hanukkah stories for children , which can also be enjoyed by the not-so-young is provided..
Light of the Spirit
As we noted last week, the nine candles beautifully reflect the nine fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5:22. The first is Love, perfectly represented by the shammash candle, the Servant, by which each of the others is lit. Each night the corresponding ‘fruit’ can be mentioned and reflected upon. How is it growing in our lives? How am I evidencing joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in my deeds? Their light will only shine in me if it is lit by the love of the Lord – our Servant Messiah.
FUN & GAMES!
The traditional, fun game to play at Hanukkah is the Dreidel game! Judaism does not at all encourage gambling, but this is one ‘gambling’ game that is enjoyed each year. Historically, during times of persecution when the study of Hebrew and Torah was forbidden, Jewish children would learn with a teacher anyway. When soldiers would investigate, they would spin a dreidel they kept handy and pretend to be playing a local game. As it was a game of chance involving money, they would have coins on the table too. However, the actual purpose for these was to pay their usually impoverished Hebrew teacher! Interestingly, the word Hanukkah and the Hebrew word for education, chinukh, have the same root letters.
A dreidel (Yiddish – rhymes with cradle), or a sevivon in Hebrew, is a small four-sided spinning top. Traditionally, the letters on the four sides of the dreidel are nun, gimmel, hey, shin, which are the first letters of Nes Gadol Haya Sham – “A Great Miracle Happened There.” Since the restoration of the State of Israel, the last letter is replaced with a pey, for Poh, meaning ‘Here’. As the miracle of God’s light has happened in each of our lives, poh – ‘here’ – seems to be the better alternative. Nes Gadol Haya Poh!
Colorful collection of dreidels!
To play the game, players can use chocolate coins, or use pennies, buttons or cardboard pieces as tokens. Each player puts one into the “pot” in the center. If a small number are playing put in two or three each. The first player takes a turn spinning the dreidel. When the dreidel stops, the letter facing up determines:
- Nun – Nothing! Nothing happens; the next player spins the dreidel.
- Gimmel – Great! The spinner takes all in the pot.
- Hey – Half! The spinner takes half of the pot.
- Peh – Put in! The spinner puts the set number of tokens (1-3) into the pot.
Homemade dreidels are easy to make. Cut cardboard into two inch squares. Draw diagonal lines on back. Make a hole in the center with a pin. Decorate the face of the square including the four letters and/or words. Insert a toothpick and push through about one-third of the length of the toothpick. That’s it. Spin away!
INGREDIENTS FOR A HANUKKAH PARTY!
1) Invitations. Invite family and friends for one or more of the nights of Hanukkah. Good way to catch up with everyone! Stipulate date and time.
2) Hanukkiah menorah and candles. Start the party off with candle-lighting, to make the room glow brightly.
3) Dreidels – for spinning contests, and chocolate coins or tokens (that can be used to ‘redeem’ M&Ms or other candies/prizes)!
4) Printed sheets with blessings and songs for the participants, if possible.
5) As a quieter time of inspiration in the candlelight, have someone read a Hanukkah story out loud. [See post – Eight Stories for Hanukkah].
6) Share words from Scripture – e.g., read a Psalm [30, 115 – 117; excerpts from118 & 119]; 1 Chronicles 16:8-13; Zechariah 4 & 14, excerpts from Matthew 2 & 5, 1 Corinthians 13, Ephesians 5:8-14.
7) Small gifts to exchange (limit cost e.g. $5-). Each person brings one. Put them all in a pile, and choose numbers to see who gets to pick first!
8) Eats! Include “oily” items such as doughnuts (once-a-year treat!), latkes – grated potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream.
Creative Israeli sufganiot / doughnuts!
Enjoy – as we celebrate the Light that broke into our darkness!
The Lord is good, and He has given us light …
1. Based on prayer in Celebration – The Book of Jewish Festivals, Jonathan David Publishers, Inc.. NY, 1987, p 58.
2. Based on prayer in The Heavenly Party, Michele Guiness, Monarch Books, 2007, p.152