Hanukkah Menorah in Maple Grove Minnesota
Sheree Curry

Hanukkah: Learning About the Festival of Lights

On the same day this year as many Christians observed the start of Advent, Jewish people began celebrating the first night of Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday known as the Festival of Lights. For both observances that started on Nov. 28, there is the lighting of candles. 

Father Chris Collins '93, SJ, vice president for mission at the University of St. Thomas, sat down with Rabbi Avi Olitzky, one of the university chaplains, to discuss the meaning of Hanukkah and its origins.

“I think the biggest challenge about Hanukkah more than anything is its proximity to Christmas,” said Olitzky. “What I mean by that is Hanukkah is so close to Christmas. You go into Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, or the grocery store and the minute that the vendors are putting out the Christmas items, they're also putting out the Hannukah items – which is amazing, except it takes into account when Christmas happens, but not when Hanukkah happens. Some years Hanukkah is around the same time as Christmas, other years it's not; like this year when it's about a month earlier.”

While Advent always starts on the fourth Sunday before Christmas, Hanukkah follows a lunar cycle in the Hebrew month of Kislev. The Jewish holiday is a time of celebration as Jews retell the miraculous story of freedom fighter Judah Maccabee, who led a revolution to reclaim his people’s temple. This is the same temple that the Western Wall in Jerusalem was built to protect, Olitzky explained.

To hear more about this story of war and conquest and victory, some of the similarities and differences between the celebration of Hanukkah and Christianity, and even why Hanukkah is not as important of a Jewish holiday as some people may think, view this video discussion between Collins and Olitzky.