Hanukkah is the Feast of Dedication. It began as a celebration of the rededication of the Temple after it was defiled by Antiochus IV. Almost 300 years later someone wrote down the now-famous story that it celebrates a miracle of one day of the sacred lamp oil lasting seven days until more could be made. How can we view the holiday in view of its earliest origins?
Each year, Hanukkah should be a celebration of the rededication of the Temple. Since there is no longer a Temple in Jerusalem, it would seem that Hanukkah should no longer be a celebration, but rather a period of mourning. Instead it remains a celbration. Perhaps we can explain this in the identification of the table in the home with the altar. The Talmud says, "When the Temple stood, sacrifices would secure atonement for an individual; now his table does." (Hagigah 27a) Further, it is said that "if three have eaten at a table and spoke words of Torah, it is as though they ate at the table of the Lord." (Avot 2:4) In this light, Hanukkah is a celebration and a rededication of homes and families. The Days of Awe (Rosh Hashana through Yom Kippur) serve to all Jews as a time of personal rededication-a time of reflection and repentance. These are days of solemnity. Hanukkah serves as a celebration of family and friends. It is a joyous time to renew associations. "How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes." (Psa 133:1-2) Even David compared a happy family to the dedication of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.
Hanukkah is an excellent time to rededicate the family in unity. Throughout the year our families tend to be defiled by anger, indifference, laziness. We sacrifice the swine of pride, selfishness, and (pun intended) pig-headedness on the altar of the family table. We need to remove these things from our lives. We need to restore the sanctity of the family, and the joy of the family. This should be done on a daily basis, but if it is not, the Feast of Dedication serves as an appropriate, and a joyous, time to do so.
As importantly, Hanukkah serves as a time to dedicate families to God. Perhaps because of its proximity to Christmas, or because of it joyousness, or perhaps because of its Rabbinic rather than Biblical origin, many otherwise non-observant Jews celebrate Hanukkah. What better time is there to begin teaching children about God, and even having parents begin thinking about God, than this time of celebration. Dedication of the family to God necessarily involves teaching. "Teach them to your children, talking about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise." (Deu 11:19) Teaching is a daily thing, but it is so much easier when it begins at a time that is naturally a family time.
Yes, Hanukkah is a seven day celebration of the rededication of a formerly defiled Temple. But it can also serve as a time of rededication of families as well.
This year (2000) Hanukkah begins December 22.