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Hanukkah And Christmas Overlap In Unusual Calendar Year

Wikipedia Media Commons

While the majority of families will gather for Christmas Eve on Saturday evening, a significant Jewish community will light the first of eight candles to mark the beginning of Hanukkah.  Most folks have some idea of the story of Christ, but less know the origins of the annual Jewish tradition.

Christmas and Easter rank as the two holiest days among Christians.  For the Jewish community, Hannukah falls a little further down the list.  There is Passover, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah.  Still, it's a story born of two miracles that have led to devout observance with each passing year.  

Rabbi Robert Dobrusin lead the Beth Israel congregation in Ann Arbor.  He says, in 165 B.C., the Greeks in Israel were gaining influence and tarnishing the faith and traditions of many of the Jews around Jerusalem.  From the adversity came the first miracle.

"Out of that comes a revolt. The Maccabees, who we know as one of the heroes in the Hanukkah story, rise up in rebellion and, despite the fact that they were outnumbered greatly, they win this battle and retake the temple in Jerusalem and reclaim it as the Jewish temple."

Having won the temple back, Rabbi Dobrusin says a second miracle was needed and provided.

"When they came into the temple to clean it up and to dedicate it,--and the word 'Hanukkah' means 'dedication'--they wanted to light the menorah. And they couldn't find enough oil. According to the tradition, they found only a little can with one day's worth of oil, and the oil miraculously burned for eight days."

Now, it's a tradition to light a candle on eight successive evenings to celebrate those miracles.  In secular society, Hanukkah is often thought of as the "Jewish Christmas."  The holidays are usually close to one another, and both usually include an exchange of gifts.

Rabbi Dobrusin says there has been some commercialization and assimilation of the holiday in the Jewish community, but it is more important than that.

"It has a tremendous message in it of pride in who you are, self-determination, of commitment to tradition. And, truthfully, it's kind of ironic that Hanukkah would be the holiday which would be the focus of so much assimilation, because the holiday is really about standing firm for what you believe in and who you are."

Hanukkah begins at sundown Saturday evening and runs through January 1st.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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