Blessings for Chanukah
by Jessie E. Sampter
Blessed art thou, O God our Lord,
Who made us holy with his word,
And told us on this feast of light
To light one candle more each night.
(Because when foes about us pressed
To crush us all with death or shame,
The Lord his priests with courage blest
To strike and give his people rest
And in the House that he loved best
Relight our everlasting flame.)
Blest art Thou, the whole world’s King,
Who did so wonderful a thing
For our own fathers true and bold
At this same time in days of old!
If it feels like things are speeding up this year, it may be because holidays on the lunar calendar, like Hanukkah, are especially early. Hanukkah, which means dedication in Hebrew, begins on the 25th of Kislev, which is November 28, and continues to the second day of Tevet in the Hebrew calendar or Monday Dec 6th this year. Hanukkah a tradition of remembrance, associated with the gift of light is celebrated with the menorah, a candelabrum with holders for 8 candles, one for each day of the celebration, plus a ninth, the shammash used to light the other candles. One candle is lit on the first night, two on the second, three on the third, through to the eighth night when all are lit.
In my house growing up we lit advent candles during the month leading up to Christmas Eve. There were four candles in a ring, with a fifth in the middle, lit on Christmas Eve. There were five in our family, so each got to light one candle and read the prayer associated with that day. As I was the youngest, I got to light the first candle the first Sunday in Advent and kick off the season. The lighting of the first advent candle also coincided with the creation of a paper chain that my Mother would make with us children with the number of paper loops corresponding for the number of days leading up to Christmas. The paper chain hung in the hallway leading to our bedrooms, and consisted of three colors, one for each child, so we knew which night it was our turn to take down a link. The shortening chain helped build the excitement for the holiday.
Though I don’t celebrate with a paper chain or advent wreath anymore, I recognize the wisdom of my Mother’s gentle way of helping us children prepare for the holidays. These traditions slowed time down in ways that made sure we finished the preparations on the gifts we were making and helped silently guide us mentally towards our family and church celebrations. I think it might be time in this dark December, to light some candles in preparation for this year’s holidays. I am considering a hybrid between the two traditions, but useful for all the same reasons. Do you have holiday traditions involving candles that you have implemented with your family that are a carryover from your childhood?
The Coming of Light
by Mark Strand
Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.