My Chanukah lights, in the photo above, are a small minority among the Christmas lights that dominate the streets here in The Villages, Florida. A couple evenings ago our bicycle club staged our annual Christmas decoration night ride. Our headlights and taillights twinkled among the holiday lights as we "ooed" and "ahed" at some of the most extensive and colorful and artistic displays. Last evening a bunch of us from the neighborhood did a similar tour in our golf carts. Each event was followed by a party with food and drink and merry music.
Tonight many of us Jewish residents assembled at one of our town centers to light our Chanukah menorah that happily sits among the Christmas decorations. Then we went to TooJays Deli for a traditional Chanukah dinner.
When we first moved down here it was a bit jarring to see Christmas lights without any snow or even the possibility of snow. It just did not seem right. However, after five years, and while reading reports of blizzards of snow being endured by our relatives up north, it seems just right.
What Happened to the CHRIST in Christmas?
Some of the decorations feature a Christmas Cresh (Nativity Scene), a cross, and/or a notice that "Christ is the reason for the season". Many are tasteful riots of twinkling lights with no obvious religious connotation. A few are garish wastes of electricity, jammed with blow-up cartoon characters and large gift boxes.
Of course I know we are actually celebrating the ancient, pre-Christian "rebirth of the Sun" - the time in the northern hemisphere when the Sun reverses the gradual lengthening of the night and starts the gradual lengthening of the day. The pagans lighted fires to encourage the Sun to begin to rise higher in the sky, and reverse its descent into the coldest depths of winter. They celebrated their joy when, in response to their prayers they thought, the Sun rose higher.
The date we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Savior is probably not the actual date of His birth. It was moved to this season to co-opt the Roman holiday of the "rebirth of the Sun".
Chanukah is a minor Jewish holiday now celebrated all out of proportion to its importance due to its proximity to Christmas. Another case of co-opting an existing holiday!
What Happened to the "CH" in Chanukah?
The word "Chanukah" means "dedication". I take care to pronounce the "CH" with the gutteral sound like the "ch" in the Scottish "loch" or in the German "achtung".
You have seen it spelled "Hanukkah" by (nearly) all the major media and pronouced Hon-uh-kuh (with the "Hon" as on "honk").
So, why do I and many Jewish websites spell it "Chanukah" while others spell it "Hanukkah"?
Because we are right and they are wrong! Here is the proof!
In Hebrew characters it is spelled: חֲנֻכָּה and, reading from right to left, the first letter חֲ is a "Chet" which has a gutteral, back of the throat, rumbling sound not represented by any single English character. As noted above, this has been represented in English as "Ch", based on the Scottish "loch". Unfortuantely, in English, "ch" is also sounded like the first syllable of "chime" or Christmas". In a misplaced effort to resolve the issue, some Jewish scholars spelled it "Kh" a combination not usually found in English. Others spelled it as a "Ḥ" (an "H" with a dot under it).
The "Kh" was not widely accepted and the "Ḥ" was often simplified to a plain "H", which is why you often see "Hanukkah" and hear it pronounced "Hon-uh-kuh".
Hebrew is normally written without vowels, but when vowels are provided, they take the form of marks under the letters. The line below the letter חֲ is pronounced "ah". That is represented as "a" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
The next Hebrew letter is נֻ pronounced like "n" with a "oo" or "u" vowel under it. This is represented as "nu" in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
The letter that follows is כָּ pronounced like "k" with an "ah"vowel under it. Notice there is only a single כָּ in the Hebrew word, so there is absolutely no valid justification for the double "kk" in "Hanukkah". It is properly represented in "Chanukah". So, why do they put the extra "k" in the word? The only possible explanation is to get a total of exactly eight letters in the word so you can put one letter on each of the eight candles representing the eight days of the "miracle" in the story of this holiday. Note that "Chanukah" already has eight letters and does not "need" the extra, extraneous and disturbing "k".
The final letter is ה pronounced like "h" and properly represented in both "Chanukah" and "Hanukkah".
In any case, Chanukah celebrates a great victory for religious freedom that was achieved ca. 165 BCE.
Considering the long history of the Jewish people as an often-persecuted minority religion, I think it is remarkable that I feel perfectly comfortable hanging Chanukah decorations in front of our house. We have received nothing but complements from our Christian neighbors.
The top photo, from left to right, shows:
1) A Chanukah menorah. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central candle is lighted, along with the candle on the far right. On the second night, the central candle plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.
2) A lighted Jewish star.
3) A second Chanukah Menorah consisting of lighted snowflakes supported by lighted candy canes. The candy canes represent the candles and the snowflakes (with six points like a Jewish star) represent the flames. The candy canes are always lighted. On the first night of Chanukah, the high central snowflake is lighted, along with the snowflake on the far right. On the second night, the central snowflake plus two on the right are lighted, and so on until all are lighted on the last evening.
I also have a lighted poster hanging outside the garage with the word "שׁלּוּﬦ" in Hebrew along with the translation "PEACE" and transliteration "Shalom".
Have a wonderful holiday season!