Samain and the Moon of Thanksgiving
Saturday gratefuls: A full week of workouts. Garlic steak bits, Shrimp, Broccoli, Rice. The Cow that died for our meal. The Shrimp, too. 46 days. K=shaped recovery. Essential Workers. Hanukkah. Yule. Winter Solstice. Christmas. Lights. Decorations. Music. Good cheer. Remembering the Maccabees. The menorah. The prayers. Solar Snow shovel. Cod. Drug holiday for mirabegron. Cribbage. 7 Wonders Duel. Deepening intimacy. Covid. Its horrors and its wonders. The election. A new year coming.
Did some decorating yesterday. Will finish today. Up here in the loft? Pagan mysteries time. Lights. Santa Claus. Ornaments. Christmas quilt. Christmas pillow. Katy did them. Bill’s gift Christmas tie and Santa hat on my Woolly Mammoth. Snow globes with Christmas scenes. Grandma’s holiday music on Pandora. Grandpop’s, too. A tree, too, possibly today.
I’m reclaiming childhood memories and welding them onto the thinking I’ve done. Long since childhood passed. This house is Hanukkah house and I’m glad. This loft is a Christmas without the birth loft and I’m glad. Oh, the weather outside is not as frightful as I’d like, but up here it’s delightful. Down below it’s all dreidels and gelt and candles. Also delightful. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
What are you gettin’ for Hanukkah? For many Jewish kids Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas. A time for gift giving and receiving. No Santa Claus, but, hey. Many, including those who do give gifts, light the menorah, one candle a night for 8 nights, say the prayers, then it’s done. You can’t blow out the candles and you can’t use them, i.e. read by them, use them to light your way to bed, hunt for a fallen coin. At certain points dreidels come out, gelt-now mostly gold foil wrapped chocolates, singing.
Back of all this. A more interesting story.
Alexander the Great divided up his empire among his favorite generals. Seleucus I Nicator got Western Asia, a large chunk of land that ran from present day Turkey in the west to parts of present day Uzbekistan and Pakistan in the east. They pushed the Ptolemy’s out of Palestine around 200 b.c.e. Hellenization, in which many upper class Jews dropped their religion and adopted Greek lifeways, was already well underway when Antiochus IV Epiphanes took over the Seleucid Empire in 175 b.c.e.
Thus, there was a conflict not only between Jews and the Seleucid empire, but between Hellenizing Jews and those determined to maintain their faith and practice. Antiochus came into the latter conflict by declaring traditional Jewish practice forbidden.* This led to the Maccabean revolt, a guerilla war fought by traditional Jews against the Seleucids. They won.
And, now. Hanukkah. The Seleucids, perhaps Antiochus himself, had profaned the second temple. (see the wiki entry below) When the Maccabees got the temple back, they found all the oil in the temple desecrated save for one amphora that still had its priestly seal intact. Then, a miracle occurs.
No new oil could be obtained for 8 days and the amphora contained only enough for one day. Still, the temple menorah had to be lit. During the night all seven lights were lit. Always. When the temple menorah, which was huge, received oil from the one still blessed amphora, it stayed lit for 8 days until fresh sanctified oil could be had. The miracle.
Though the temple menorah only had seven lights, the Hanukkah menorah has nine. 8 of them commemorate the miracle and the 9th, the shamash, (helper, servant) is lit first and lights the other candles. In the tradition that we follow, on the first night there is one candle, on the second two, on the third three and so on until 8. Kate lights the candles and reads the prayers. I recite them with her. If the kids are here, gifts get distributed. Much like Christmas.
The first level of meaning is the miracle of the oil. That’s the one most recall. The second level of meaning lifts up the willingness of traditional Jews to take up the fight against the mighty Seleucid empire. And win! A third level of meaning is that the traditional Jews fought for the right to be different from their imperial power. Although. The traditional Jews may have also been fighting to reclaim Judaism from the upper classes who had assimilated.
It is a minor holiday compared to the High Holidays, Pesach, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, but it is the holiday most visible to the goyim. And, it has been made to fit into the whole Christmas holiday dither.
*According to 1 Maccabees, Antiochus banned many traditional Jewish and Samaritan religious practices: he made possession of the Torah a capital offense and burned the copies he could find; sabbaths and feasts were banned; circumcision was outlawed, and mothers who circumcised their babies were killed along with their families; and traditional Jewish ritual sacrifice was forbidden. It was said that an idol of Olympian Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and that Israelites set up altars to Greek gods and sacrificed “unclean” animals on them. Wiki