No sooner has Thanksgiving come and gone than folks everywhere are preparing for the celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah. Two symbols that convey important information about how the faithful worship are the Christian creche and the Hanukkah menorah. Each tells us much about faith.
The word creche means “a model or tableau representing the scene of Jesus Christ’s birth.” It was in the year 1223, in the town of Greccio in central Italy, that a humble friar that the world would come to know as Saint Francis of Assisi moved his Christmas Eve worship service from a small chapel to an area at the opening of a cave. Humans and living animals were staged to represent their Biblical roles at the time of Jesus’ birth, the cave suggesting the shelter of a manger. Saint Francis did this to emphasize that Christmas was about the worship of Jesus Christ, because, even in 1223, the exchange of presents had become central to the celebration of Christmas. Word spread quickly about the beauty and solemnity of Saint Francis’ living creche. So much so that even the Pope, Honorius III, gave his blessing to Saint Francis’ living nativity.
Within a hundred years, every church in Italy was expected to display either a living nativity or a representation in some medium, perhaps terracotta, paper, wood, wax or even ivory. These representations were often great works of art. Many have survived and are now displayed in the world’s great museums. From Saint Francis’ iconic model of faith until the present day, churches, homes and municipal buildings all over the world have displayed a traditional Christmas creche, either living or ornamental. Every year, since 1982, the Pope has displayed a nativity scene in Vatican City in St. Peter’s piazza.
Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights that commemorates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BC. After years of oppression, the freedom fighters known as the Maccabees successfully rose up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors to reclaim the Temple. Although in ruins, the Temple was purified and rededicated. Miraculously, oil in the Temple menorah burned for eight days, even though there was only enough sacred oil for one day- “A great miracle happened there.”
‘Hanukkah’ is the Hebrew and Aramaic word for ‘dedication.’ The Hanukkiah is the nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day festival of Hanukkah. On each night, an additional candle is light and all remain burning until self-extinguished. The ninth holder, called the shamash (“helper” or “servant”), is for a candle used to light all the other candles or to be used as an extra light. A special blessing thanking God is said before or after lighting the candles, and a special Jewish hymn is often sung. Gifts are given and traditional games are played. A popular one is with Dreidel, a 4-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side- NGHS- that stand for Nes Gadol Hayah Sham- “A great miracle happened there.” Traditionally, the Hanukkiah menorah is put in a window so passersby can see the lights and remember the story of Hanukkah. This year, Hanukkah is celebrated from Sunday evening December 22nd through Monday evening December 30th.
During this holy season, the most memorable good wish of all may well come from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” In the words of the dearly loved young Tiny Tim, a sickly little boy who walks with a crutch, comes the message, “God Bless Us Everyone!”
Beneath the Attic,” V.C. Andrews
“Big Lies in a Small Town,” Diane Chamberlain
“ Good Girls Lie,” J.T. Ellison
“The Family Upstairs,” Lisa Jewell
“Hindsight,” Iris Johansen
“The Vanishing,” Jayne Ann Krentz
“Lost,” James Patterson and James O. Born
“The River Murders,” James Patterson and James O. Born
“Moral Compass,” Danielle Steel
“Treason,” Stuart Woods.
“Free Melania: The Unauthorized Biography,” Kate Bennett
“The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate,” Tom Brokow
“How Not to Diet: The Groundbreaking Science of Healthy, Permanent Weight Loss,” Michael Greger, MD, FACLM
“Epstein: Dead Men Tell No Tales,” Dylan Howard with Melissa Cronin and James Robertson
“The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2020,” Sarah Janssen
“Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump,” Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch
“Conversation with RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty & Law,” Jeffrey Rosen
“Touches by the Sun: My Friendship with Jackie,” Carly Simon.
“The Complete Baking Book for Young Chefs,” America’s Test Kitchen Kids
“One of Us Is Next,” Karen McManus
Children’s Picture Books:
“Where Is the Sun?” Eric Carle
“Love From the Crayons,” Drew Daywalt
“The Serious Goose,” Jimmy Kimmel