If you watched all 92 episodes of The O.C., back in 2003 to 2007, as I did, faithfully, you will remember that the Cohen family celebrated Chrismukkah. The Cohens were the family central to the main plot of the TV series. They were also a mixed religion family. The father, Sandy Cohen, (played by actor Peter Gallagher) was Jewish, as his surname reflects. His wife, Christin, (played by actor Kelly Rowen) was Christian. So they raised their only child, Seth, (played by young actor Adam Brody) with the traditions of both faiths. As do many families in the US and around the world. Every DEC, the Cohens always celebrated both Christmas & Hanukkah as a combined holiday, Chrismukkah.
This year, it would have been very simple for the fictional Cohens because tonight is both the first night of Hanukkah, as well as Christmas Eve. Seven of the eight days of Hanukkah fall on the first 7 of the 12 days of Christmas. Some folks may have noticed that, although Christmas is always DEC 25 in Western Christianity, Hanukkah seems to slide around on the calendar a bit. It can come as early as NOV or late in DEC. The reason is quite simple, Western Christians* subscribe to what is now the universal/most widely used civil calendar, the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar is a solar calendar, based on the earth’s 365.25-day journey around the sun. However, Judaism has its own calendar, which is a lunar calendar, based on the phases of the moon as it travels around the earth and the two together travel around the sun. The lunar calendar is about 354 days. Because it is a lunar calendar, the days are counted starting at sundown. As it states in Genesis, the evening and the morning were the first day, as determined by a lunar calendar.
Jews could do as the Muslims, who also use a lunar calendar, and ignore how dates on the lunar calendar slide around the Gregorian calendar, except that would eventually throw off another Jewish holy day, Passover, which scripture determines must be in the Spring. So the Jews do something similar to what we do to keep the secular Gregorian calendar on track. Where we throw in an extra day every four years, adding an extra day to FEB, the Jews throw in an extra month, a leap-month in seven of every 19 lunar years. That way Passover slides around in regard to the secular calendar but stays in the Spring and Hanukkah slides around in NOV & DEC.
Hanukkah is a festival that celebrates the rededication of the 2nd Hebrew Temple after the revolt of the Maccabees. The Maccabean Kingdom was established in 165 BCE after the Jews successfully recaptured Jerusalem and their temple which had been looted and desecrated with an alter to Zeus by the Seleucid monarchs. When the temple was rededicated there was only oil sufficient for one night for the temple menorah. But the story says that miraculously the flames burned for 8 nights. That was sufficient time to press, prepare and consecrate new olive oil for the temple use.
Hanukkah is called both The Festival of Dedication and The Festival of Lights. Since the time of the Maccabees, the Jews have celebrated the holiday with a nine-branched menorah. The Hanukkah menorah is different than the Temple menorah, which had seven branches. Eight of the lights represent the eight nights that the Temple menorah burned during the miracle. The ninth light is called the attendant or sextant. The purpose of the ninth light is to give any light needed in a room with the menorah, as it is forbidden to use just the menorah to light a room. There are different schools of thought on how to use the menorah during Hanukkah. Some Jews traditionally first light the sextant and then use it to light the other lights. Some Jews light the other lights with a separate lighter and then light the sextant last. Some Jews traditionally light one extra light each night of Hanukkah until on the 8th night all 8 Hanukkah lights are lit. And some Jews light all eight lights the first night of Hanukkah and light one less each night until on the 8th night of Hanukkah only one light is lit.
Whether tonight you celebrate the miracle of light in the Temple or the coming of light into a dark world, God’s blessing and peace be upon you and yours.
*Orthodox Christians use a different calendar to determine the date of Easter, which in turn determines the dates of the rest of the liturgical year. They use the older Julian calendar, which was superseded by the Gregorian calendar, perpetuated by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582, as a refinement of the Julian calendar.
Facts for this story were gathered from Wikipedia articles about Hanukkah, the menorah and the Macabbean revolt. The idea for the story was inspired by an article at the Religion News Service. The main image is from Right Attitudes. The second image I have had a long time and forget its source.