It was seven years ago that we celebrated our first Hanukkah as a family. That year, my kids were still small and we wanted to provide them a culturally rich, and possibly spiritually engaging experience. We didn’t have a clue.
That year, Hanukkah was just about a week before Christmas, so we set up our tree and hung our ornaments and went and purchased a Menorah and some candles. I figured out the dates of the celebration, planned a menu featuring some of our favorites mixed with some of the, traditionally Jewish,0 foods that I thought they would enjoy. My husband and I planned eight days of gifts and Bible lessons, organized everything as best we could, found a synagogue that held a giant menorah lighting at a park and we went from there.
We had no idea what we were in for, but we read a little and put together some simple elements that have since become some of our favorite family traditions of the year.
And then we lit those first candles.
Our families and friends had a lot of questions and concerns, but we just continued teaching our kids how Jewish people celebrate.
We didn’t know then how much of an impact Hanukkah would have on our family. How could we have known!
Immediately, we found that our kids loved Hanukkah. They didn’t merely enjoy it, and like the extra gifts – they loved it. We didn’t expect it, but when it was all said and done and the last candle burned out, they all begged to continue the Hanukkah celebration next year. When we asked why, they each had different reasons, but, in general, they all loved the special foods, the lengthy dinners and conversations around the table, and the way the Bible came alive with the passages we shared from Scripture.
Six years later, at our family Hanukkah celebration, we saw God fulfill the feast within our own home.
On the surface, the holiday seemed wrecked. It was a messy year. Much like that first Hanukkah might have been. But nonetheless, we could see God working. We could see rededication happening, we could see the light growing brighter with each candle lit. We could see the cleansing happening.
Hanukkah at its very basic, but spiritual level, is about rededication. Underneath all the dreidels, gold foil wrapped chocolate, special candle holders and latkes is a story of a people who fought a battle against evil, to regain access the Temple, God’s dwelling place. Their hearts’ desires were to cleanse the Temple of idols, to rededicate it to God against all odds and to have the lamp of God lit once again, inviting his Presence to return to Israel.
As the new Temple, ourselves, we saw each Hanukkah as a time to rededicate our hearts and lives and to rekindle that flame in ourselves. But, during Hanukkah that year, my husband experienced a transformative rededication experience between Him and God that lasted for much of the eight-day celebration, and culminated in the light in his heart being rekindled more brightly than we could have ever imagined.
In the original Hanukkah story, the Maccabees had to tear down the idols that had been placed in the Temple. They had to cleanse everything, burn that which had been desecrated, and re-install new and sanctified fixtures in their place.
Last Hanukkah, the idols in his life had to be torn down. Some were areas he had been fighting for years and others he was entirely unaware of. Areas of filth in his life had to be burned up. His heart had to be re-sanctified and made new. He had to surrender everything, give up everything he held dear and let God fill those places.
It’s About The Shamash
Each Hanukkah the kids await their turn to help light the night’s candles from the Shamash, usually the center candle. The Shamash, meaning servant, shares its light with the other candles nearby. As this servant candle lights the other candles, we show our children that Jesus was the great Servant and that He is the one who gives us light, and that we too can follow in his footsteps to bring His light to others as well.
That year, my husband so filled with the light of Messiah in his heart began sharing it more emphatically, more consistently, more passionately with all those he encountered. This rededication of his heart and the Light that filled him, allowed him to share Messiah’s light more readily with us at home, fulfilling his role as the leader he was called to be here, but also on the streets, in the bars, and with everyone he met.
It’s About a Battle
Just as the Maccabees had to fight a battle, so did my husband, and so did we as a family. We had to fight a spiritual battle with Jesus at our side, to make way for His Spirit to dwell in us again.
Hanukkah has meant a lot to us since we began this tradition as a family, but now it means so much more. As we approach this Hanukkah season, we now see it as an anniversary of sorts. It’s an anniversary, a celebration of His light rekindled in our lives, in our home, in our family. It’s an anniversary of having been cleansed by Him, re-sanctified, and made clean. It’s an anniversary of His Spirit coming to dwell in us richly and fully.
While all kids love gifts, and ours are no exception, they are now pleased with the gift of the holiday itself. They embrace the meaning of the celebration, the spiritual wealth it has brought us, and the joyfully full home we share as we celebrate His Spirit in our midst.
How to Celebrate Hanukkah as a Family?
While Hanukkah is not a Biblical mandated Feast of the Lord, we see in scripture that Jesus celebrated it, and we have found a spiritual wealth in doing so.
You need candles and a way to light them, but you don’t have to buy anything special. Some of the menorahs I’ve loved the most have been made.
Prepare some Bible Readings, or get a set, included with the Big Fat Christian Family Hanukkah Planner and Memory Keeper.
Gifts aren’t necessary, but we love to give gifts and to use them to demonstrate how much God enjoys giving us good gifts as well.
Dreidels also are not necessary, but our kids love to play with them and see whose can spin the longest. It’s a game, nothing more.
We try each year to celebrate with our Jewish brothers and sisters at a Giant Menorah Lighting. They’re a fun group often celebrating with singing and dancing. One of our family’s favorite memories was when the Rabbi pulled my husband into a typical Jewish circle dance. And their Iatkes and hot cider can’t be beat on a cold night!
I encourage everyone to give it a try at least once. It’s such a special holiday, with so much spiritual depth to be found if you’re looking. And for us, it’s been life-changing.
Blessings and Shalom this Holiday Season!