What is the Proper Spelling of (C)Hanukkah and Why Don’t Christians Celebrate It?

Wow! A pair of questions for the middle week of December. And, like most of the best questions, each has multiple answers. It’s a geometric progression of Late2Church goodness. Talk about a Christmas miracle!

Phase 1 – spelling. Hanukkah, or Chanukah, depending on who you ask is a celebration of Jewish origin. Thus, like many things in Judaism, is has a Hebrew name. Hebrew, as is the case for most other languages, employs sounds (phonemes) which are not a part of contemporary English. Moreover, Hebrew is written in a unique character set that maps better on to the phonemes of its own language. Thus, on occasion, a non-English phoneme represented by non-English (i.e. Roman) letters get transliterated in different ways. Less nerdy answer . . . “Both are right.” The Hebrew letter “Chet”, which represents the back-of -the-throat “h” sound (like the ch in Loch Ness Monster), can be transliterated into English as either “ch” or just “h”.

One question, two answers. Good Start.

Now, what about Christians and Hanukkah?

Phase 2 – propriety. In several of his letters, St. Paul reminds us that there is broad liberty with respect to feast-days and holidays in the Faith. As long as an observance is dedicated to the glorification of God and doesn’t cause another member of the community to lose their faith, then much is generally permissible. Under these principles, Hanukkah might seem like a good idea. It is, after all, a celebration of the miraculous abundance of God in the midst of growing darkness and, though its setting is the Temple that we understand to be superseded by Jesus himself, the holiday’s focus is not so much on the act of sacrifice as it is on our reliance on God. Again, it seems like a win.

But, on the other hand, in a season that is already packed with so many other holidays, observances, traditions and feasts, one would have to ask why we would need another opportunity, much less an obligation. The abundance of God’s grace is as much a part of the Christmas Story as it is of Hanukkah. Moreover, Christmas has its own images of light breaking into the growing darkness of winter. No need for any more candles. I guess the root of my thought here is not really about permissions, but necessity. It may be fine for a Christian to celebrate Hanukkah, it might even be helpful depending on the individual’s own sense of piety. Shoot, in the case of celebrating Hanukkah in the company of Jewish friends, neighbors and family, I’m all for it. But it shouldn’t get in the way.

And this is, after all, St. Paul’s point. There are a lot of things, religious and otherwise, in the world that are permissible. Some might even be helpful to the cause of faith from time to time and from person to person. But we always need to be cautious of adding too much to our Rule of Life or our Life of Faith. God loves us whether we celebrate or not. And we need to make sure we have room in our minds and hearts to love him back.

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