Celebrating the Festival of Lights
Lamp or candle lighting near the time of the winter solstice is not culturally bound; neither is our desire to light the winter darkness. Whatever our belief system or tradition, a festival of lights reminds us to embrace light, and be light. In that sprit, I have written the following "service" for Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.
When your calendar says “First Day of Hanukah,” the first night has already passed.
In the Jewish tradition, day begins at sundown and continues to the next sundown.
The first night’s date changes every year with the cycle of the Jewish, not the Roman calendar.
It has been celebrated for over two-thousand one-hundred and seventy-five years.
The eight-night celebration is one of commemoration and re-enactment,
reminding us of a miracle that brought holy light to a time of darkness.
After the Jews’ temple was destroyed, its perpetual light extinguished, and its altar defiled
by their enemies, many Jews fled, others capitulated, but a small band defied the new order.
The Maccabees, a band of brothers, eventually led a successful revolt of courageous Jews.
Following victory, the people cleansed the temple of all desecration, and sought to dedicate the altar.
A near-empty jar of consecrated oil was discovered. With prayers, they lit the sacred lamp in 164 BC.
Miraculously, the one-day supply burned brightly for 8 days, time for more oil to be prepared.
To commemorate the miracle, it was decreed that the eight lights be lit in every Jewish home,
one light the first night, two the second, and so on for eight days. The lights are lit with a servant candle.
To celebrate The Festival of Lights, also known as The Feast of Dedication, you will need a menorah,
a special candelabra to hold 9 candles. You will also need one box of 44 Hanukah candles.
(Why 44? Children should be encouraged to do the math!)
Each night, you will light the servant candle (the shamash) from the center of the menorah.
Use it to light the other Hanukah candles in the menorah, one the first night, two the second, and so on.
Some of what follows has been adapted from a folded, creased, and tattered goldenrod paper titled "Hanukah Service for the Home," passed down from my grandmother, to my mother, to me. There is no date, author, or temple to credit. I have focused on ecumenical, spiritual values, not religion.
Blessings accompany the lighting of all the candles. A special blessing is recited on the first night only.
The shamash explanation is recited each night, followed by a few words about that day’s light.
The Blessing (every night)
Praise to the Creator of the Universe, who makes us whole, and brings light into darkness.
Praise and thanks we offer for all wondrous things done for us at this season.
Additional Blessing (first night only)
Praise to the Creator who has granted us life, sustained us, and permitted us to celebrate together this joyous festival.
The Servant Light (Shamash)
As one candle may kindle many others and yet lose none of its own light, so may we kindle the light of peace and shine brightly in our communities. Light the shamash and pray for peace. Use the shamash to light each day’s candle before returning the servant candle to its place in the center of the menorah.
The First Day – place 1 candle in the menorah, in the last holder to the right. Light it with the servant candle, then return the servant to its place in the center of the menorah. The first light tells of the light itself at the beginning of the Cosmos. The darkness scattered at the moment of radiance. Watch the flames and pray for light.
The Second Day – place 2 candles in the menorah, from right to left. Light them left to right. The second light is the light of learning and truth. Through sacred teachings passed down by our elders, our path is well lit. Watch the flames and pray for truth.
The Third Day – 3 candles, placed right to left, and kindled left to right. The third light is the light of justice. No nation can endure which is unjust to the weak. “Let justice roll down like mighty waters.” Watch the flames and pray for justice.
The Fourth Day – 4 candles, as above. The fourth light is the light of mercy. Cruelty hardens the heart and destroys friendships. “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly." Watch the flames and pray for mercy.
The Fifth Day – 5 candles (skipping the shamash holder). The fifth light is the light of holiness. All of life is sacred. May we honor the sacred with pure thoughts and noble actions. Watch the flames and pray for holiness and purity.
The Sixth Day – 6 candles, as above. The sixth light is the light of love. When we have learned to love ourselves, and can accept the love of others, we can love family, friends, neighbors, and strangers in a way that makes life beautiful. Watch the flames and pray for love.
The Seventh Day – 7 candles, as above. The seventh light is the calm light of patience. Nothing can be achieved in haste. The spreading tree and the human soul grow slowly to perfection. Watch the flames and pray for patience.
The Eighth Day – all 8 candles, as above. The eighth light is the light of courage. Let truth and justice protect you. Fear not. Be strong and of good courage. Watch the flames and pray for courage.
Whether or not you are Jewish or affirm any other faith, I believe this Hanukah service is a timely antidote to American holiday frenzy, winter depression, and global violence. It is an opportunity to slow down, breathe, reflect, and meditate. By lighting the candles and reciting the blessings each night, you affirm and embrace the ancient proposition that light overcomes darkness and creates a better world.
Tonight, Dec. 15, 2012, is the eighth night of Hanukah. I will be lighting the 9 candles for the families in Connecticut, for my friends and family around the world, and for my community. Shalom.
©2012 Andrea M. Penner