Hanukkah begins tonight, December 16, 2014, at sundown. A couple of years ago I found a terrific book about this holiday at Barnes & Noble. I wrote about the book, but in case you missed that post, I’m repeating it. Before I tell you about the book though, I thought you might like to hear a little about the holiday beyond the gifts and potato latkes. It’s really fascinating.

This Jewish celebration is known as the Festival of Lights because of the candles or oil lamps that are lit in Jewish homes for eight nights beginning on 25th day of Kislev. The festival was a celebration of the rededication, in about 165 BC, of the Temple in Jerusalem after the Temple had been misused. When the Jews rededicated it, they had only enough holy oil for one night, but miraculously that oil burned for eight nights, enough time for new holy oil to be prepared.

The Temple had to be rededicated. A Greek ruler, Antiochus IV, had set up worship to other gods in it and even had pigs sacrificed on the altar. Disgusting! It was part of his plan to Hellenize the Jews–get them to blend in and stop being Jews. He also outlawed circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and adhering to dietary laws.

What he was doing from a Christian perspective–though I’m sure Antiochus didn’t know he was doing it–was trying to put his plans between God and God’s promises to the Jews both to preserve them as a people and to send them a Messiah. Antiochus IV failed. God was faithful. He would not be overruled. The Messiah who would crush the head of the Evil One and who was to come from the seed of Abraham, through Isaac, through Jacob, and from the tribe of Judah, came just as God had promised. Jesus was born.

Christian kids will benefit from knowing the story behind the celebration of Hanukkah. It reminds us that God keeps His promises and that He is stronger than the plans of human beings. It is thought-provoking that Jesus was in the Temple in Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. (John 10:22-23)

I’ve read Hanukkah books which emphasize the customs: lighting candles, giving gifts, spinning the dreidel and eating traditional dishes such as latkes, but  Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah tells the story of those long ago events leading up to the miracle and the rededication of the Temple. Written by Tilda Balsley, illustrated by David Harrington, published by Kar-Ben Publishing (2010), Maccabee! The Story of Hanukkah does a good job of showing in text and pictures why the Jews were fighting, their eventual victory and their awe at the miracle that God gives them. Balsley tells it with passion and in rhyme. A refrain at strategic places in the story: “Sometimes it only takes a few, who know what’s right and do it too,” is good for a child to consider and remember.

This soft cover picture book is suitable for school age children. Balsley tells them plainly that there were battles, but neither she nor the illustrator emphasizes the bloodshed. The illustrator has done film work and has a degree in animation. His illustrations are full of color, action, and emotion. Small touches of humor keep a very serious subject from seeming grim.

Nancy Ellen Hird is a mom, a writer and a credentialed teacher. (She taught seventh grade and preschool.) Two of her published works for children are Marty’s Monster and Jessica Jacobs Did What?  Her latest work is I Get a Clue, a mystery novel for girls 10-13. For several years she was a freelance reviewer of children’s and teen’s literature for the Focus on the Family website.

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