What exactly is this Jewish holiday all about and are we required to keep it? Is it a festival/appointed time of YHWH?
The holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated in the 9th Hebrew month, the month of Kislev. It is celebrated for 8 days, beginning on the 25th of that month. On our Gregorian calendar it can fall anywhere between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
The holiday commemorates the miraculous victory of the outnumbered Jewish army over the mighty army of the Syrian-Greek empire during the times of the Maccabees and Antiochus IV. This event in history is recorded in the apocryphal book of Maccabees.
More than remembering the defeat of the Syrian-Greek armies, the holiday seeks to commemorate the miracle of the oil. When the conquering army of the small band of Jews sought to light the Temple menorah they found only one small jar of pure oil. Miraculously, that one day supply of consecrated oil burned for eight days. It is for this reason that the sages instituted the eight day festival of Hanukkah.
Did Yeshua and His apostles keep this holiday during the first century? Yes, it is recorded in John chapter 10 that Yeshua went up to Jerusalem for the “Feast of Dedication”. Hanukkah is known by this name since it refers to the re-dedication of the Temple after it had been desecrated by the Syrian-Greeks. It is also known as the “festival of lights”. It is celebrated much like Sukkot (Tabernacles) except on a much smaller scale, and without the harvest of produce, because Hanukkah is celebrated during a winter month.
We can read in the book of Maccabees why they set aside a week in the month of Kislev, memorializing the defeat of Antiochus, and it was because they had not been able to keep the Festival of Sukkot that year. For that reason they set aside this week and celebrated much like Sukkot would have been celebrated. This is why it is much like a mini Sukkot celebration.
Did this miracle of oil really happen or is it just a tradition? Your guess is as good as mine! The book of Maccabees does not record this miracle it has just been a tradition that has been handed down orally. One thing that we do know for sure is that the defeat of the Syrian-Greek army did happen and Yeshua did keep the holiday as recorded in the New Testament. If He apparently “went up to Jerusalem” during the celebration then it seems reasonable that I too should be able to keep the holiday in some fashion.
Is Hanukkah a “moed” or Appointed Time of Elohim? No, it is not. We are not commanded to keep this holiday or Purim either for that matter. The choice is ours.
As traditions go, for the most part, Hanukkah has turned into nothing more than a new Jewish name for Christmas. They now have a Hanukkah bush for the xmas tree, a Mensch on the Bench for the elf on the shelf (although Moshe the mensch doesn’t do tricks or magical things like the elf, instead he teaches lessons about the holiday), and small gifts are traditionally given to children for each of the 8 nights of Hanukkah.
So, what does all this mean for me? I celebrate Hanukkah (I don't celebrate xmas). I enjoy it. It is a great family time where we have lots of food and play dreidels with the kids, and yes, I have given gifts to my grandchildren each night of Hanukkah. Husband and I also share the Hanukkah story or watch a movie (usually a cartoon) explaining the historical facts about the holiday. We generally light the candles each night on the Hanukkah menorah as well. I don't have (nor do I intend to have) a Hanukkah bush or mensch on the bench.
Here is the dilemma. A rose by any other name is still a rose. Am I trying to substitute Hanukkah for xmas? Is that what I am really doing? If so, then I believe that is wrong and it should be avoided! If I replace xmas with Hanukkah then I really haven't removed that paganism from my life; in celebrating God and this miracle of a small army defeating a great army. Why would I want to get rid of one pagan ritual, just to replace it with another?
I know this is harsh by most people's standards. My niece has helped me to see this as we try to keep each other in check. I am re-evaluating how I celebrate this holiday.
If you celebrate Hanukkah this is your decision to make. No one can make it for you. Either way – just remember that the event did really happen and has happened many times when God defeats the enemies of His people; when they are totally outnumbered. Not only has it happened many times in the past but it continues to happen and will happen again at Yeshua's return.
When we read the book of Daniel we can see the foretelling of the event, recorded in the book of Maccabees, when the Syrian-Greek King was defeated. We also know that Yeshua referred to these prophecies in Daniel regarding what we saw with the destruction of the temple in 70 AD and the aftermath of that event, as well as His second coming. Yeshua is sure to defeat the armies of the wicked at His return just like the Maccabees defeated Antiochus. For this reason I like to celebrate Hannukah as it has prophetic implications for the future coming of Messiah Yeshua.
Furthermore, and this is really a whole different subject, I believe as do many others that Yeshua was probably conceived during the time of Hanukkah and was born nine months later during the feast of Sukkot.
If you celebrate it - hope you have a great Hanukkah this year.