This is obviously the holiday season. We have different traditions, two of which I am familiar: Christian and Jewish, which are basic to the holiday season.
Advent begins after we fill our bellies with turkey and dressing. Advent means “coming.” It is the time of year when we prepare for the birth of Christ and for his second coming. We celebrate for four weeks with candles, one for each week, and one that is called the Christ candle and symbolizes Christ as the light of the world.
Each week has a different emphasis. In the first week we focus on how the prophets prepared the people for the coming of the Messiah. The second week focuses on how Jesus was born in an ordinary town and ministered to ordinary people. Thirdly, we consider how God sent his son to poor shepherds and not to the rich and famous. The fourth week we celebrate the angels coming to announce Christ’s birth, and how he will come again with the angels to establish his everlasting kingdom.
The circular wreath symbolizes the eternal presence of God and his love for humankind. The green represents the hope of renewal, and the candles reflect the light of God who came into the world and is coming again. The four candles stand for the four centuries we waited for Christ’s coming as prophesied in Malachi and actualized in the birth of Christ.
Hanukkah is also celebrated during this holiday season. It too is a festival using candles. One hundred sixty-five years before Jesus was born, the king of Syria conquered the Holy Land. He profaned the Temple in Jerusalem, along with other horrendous acts.
Finally a Jewish leader, Judas Maccabeus, led a revolt against the Syrians and won freedom once again for God’s children. The Temple was cleansed, and the Jews commemorated the restoration with an eight-day festival.
The Syrians had profaned all of the olive oil that was used for the lights except one portion, which would last only one night. The Jews lit the menorah, which had nine holes in it. One space was lit as the source of light, and each of the other eight holes were lit, one for each night of the festival. The oil miraculously lasted for the full eight nights.
An adaptation of this festival since Christmas giving has become so popular is to give the children one gift each night of Hanukkah. Today candles are often used instead of oil lamps.
Christmas becomes more meaningful when we understand the traditions which are part of our history. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, and Advent began to be celebrated in the fourth century A.D.