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To Dispel the Darkness

For Jews, Chanukah, which began on the evening of Dec. 9 this year, is an eight-day celebration symbolized by the menorah, which is lit each evening.

Rabbi Sholom Deitsch of Chabad /Lubavitch

noted, "It is a holiday, a joyous time. The concept is that a little light dispels a lot of darkness." That is why he said the menorah is lit only when it becomes dark.

The second part of the celebration is overcoming the odds, Rabbi Deitsch. said, "standing up for what's right. "This is especially important," he said, after the events of Sept. 11. People need something to hold onto."

"Chanukah commemorates a military victory of Jewish zealots over the Assyrians and Greeks, a victory against the encroachment of Greek culture,” Rabbi Rosalind Gold of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation said. The Assyrians conquered Jerusalem and defiled the temple, and the Maccabees drove them out and rededicated the temple. "Chanukah means ‘dedication,’" she said. She added that the lighting of the menorah was part of the mythology. The tradition is that the Maccabees found only one small cruse of oil sanctified for use, which should have lasted only one day but it lasted for eight. Chanukah remembers that miracle.

One week before Chanukah began, Dec. 2 marked the start of Advent, a season of preparation for Christians, which traces its beginning to the Council of Saragosa in 380 AD. It was originally established as a time of prayer and fasting in preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ.

The Advent wreath itself originated in pre-Christian times in Germany and Scandinavia to celebrate the return of the sun. As adapted by the Christian church, the traditional wreaths were quite large, suspended from the ceiling, often made of a wheel decorated with greens and candles. Many churches today still have the large wreaths suspended from the ceiling, while others have smaller ones that are placed near the altar in church and often on the dining room table in homes.

The Advent wreath is lit each day in Church during services or in homes traditionally at night. The first week one candle is lit, the second week two, and so on. The circle or wreath represents both the circle of the liturgical year and enduring life. The candles, of course, represent light dispelling the darkness during the darkest month of the year.