Updated: Jan 27, 2020
"Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” John 10:22-24
A few years ago, I noticed that every class in my school had lessons geared toward Christmas. It made complete sense to focus on one of the biggest events in the universe. After I realized many of my ideas were being done in other classes, I sat and considered doing something different.
The story of Hanukkah is fascinating, historical, and points us directly to Christ. Hanukkah is celebrated this year from December 24 through January 1. It reflects on the events recorded in the I and II book of Maccabees found in the Jewish Apocrypha.
When Alexander the Great came and ruled the Persian empire, the Grecian influence began to rub off on the Jews weakening their commitment to God. Alexander's predecessor, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, wanted complete assimilation of the Jews. He forbade studying and memorizing the Torah, set-up a statue of Zeus in the temple, and sacrificed pigs on the altar. This is known as the desolation of abomination prophesied in Daniel 11:23, “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation." Jesus also references this in Matthew 24:15-16; “So when you see standing in the holy place ‘the abomination that causes desolation,’ spoken of through the prophet Daniel—let the reader understand— then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains."
The climax of these events occurred when some Grecian soldiers made a visit to Modiin a small Jewish village. There, they met an old but strong priest named Mattathias. Refusing to allow a Jewish priest to sacrifice a pig on the altar of their temple, Mattathias sticks a sword in the priest. This event begins a revolt that resulted in the defeat of the Syrian Greeks.
Judah, one of Mattathias' sons, cleansed the temple of the filth and rededicate it to the Lord. The Menorah is symbolic of God's glory filling the world and pointing to a Messiah. The Menorah in the temple is only to be lit by pure oil. The miracle occurred when Judah found only one days worth of oil, but lasted eight days. This rededication of the temple encouraged the Jewish people and reminded them that their invisible God was still with them.
Many years later as Jesus is at the temple during Hanukkah, the Menorah is being lit by the Jews as they yearn for a future Messiah. Many did not recognize their Messiah there with them that night, but some did and their heart was filled with hope and joy as God opened their eyes to the Light of the World.
Ideas to celebrate with your students.
1- Play the Dreidel game. Have students make a Dreidel out of stock paper. Provide m&ms or another candy for them to use. During the time of Antiochus Epiphanes, Jewish kids were not allowed to study or memorize the Torah. While the Greek soldiers were not looking they would study the Torah, and when the soldiers would walk by disguise their studying by playing the Dreidel game.
2- Play the Candelight-Hanukkah song by the Maccabeats- This fun music video is a great overview of this holiday.
3- Light the Menorah- Tell the story of Hannuakh and light the candles.
4- Skit- Have students write a skit portraying the events of Hanukkah.
Here are some additional resources:
Drucker, M. (1994). The Family Treasury of Jewish Holidays (1st). Singapore: Little, Brown and Company
Fellner, J.B. (1995) In the Jewish Tradition: A Year of Food and Festivities. New York, NY: SMITHMARK Publishers, Inc.