Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Festival of Books

Hey, everyone! During this time of the year, everyone's concerned about Christmas trees, Santa Claus, the birth of Christ, etc., and there's a small group of people lighting up a hanukkiah (an eight-branched menorah) for eight nights in a row.

If you're not sure about the story behind Hanukkah, here's the short version: a Greek emperor Antiochus Epiphanes moved in on Israel in 160s BCE. They commanded the Jews not to observe Torah or their religious customs. The Israelites were having none of this, of course. They studied Torah, anyways, but they were prepared and when the Greeks came around, they'd hide what they were studying and act like they were gambling with spinning tops (dreidels!). Worst of all, the Greeks seized the temple and dedicated it to the worship of Zeus.

Well, after a while, they finally got fed up with the Greeks and went up against them, led by the Maccabees. The succeeded in taking back their land, but they needed to consecrate the temple, which had been defiled by the worship of swine. They found they only had enough oil for one day, but they light the menorah, anyway. And the Hanukkah miracle was that the oil last eight days, long enough for them to make new oil.

As a result, each year people around the world light candles for eight nights: one on the first, two on the second, etc. They also eat a lot of fried foods to commemorate the role of oil in the miracle of Hanukkah.

I didn't start celebrating Hanukkah until about eight years ago, but I've always been in awe when I heard the stories of these men and women sticking up for their beliefs. In one story, the Greeks tried to persuade one elder of the community to eat pork. They threatened his family, his life, but he wouldn't yield. They finally told him it wouldn't even be pork, but they would tell everyone else it was, in order to sway the community to Greek customs. He still refused, saying he wouldn't even give the appearance of evil. Many died rather than disobey God.

I marvel at the steadfast faith of these people. Despite their small numbers, they fought to retrieve their land and most especially, their temple where they worshiped God. In the face of an oppressive regime, they stuck by their beliefs no matter what the cost. This time of year always makes me wonder if I would have the same kind of devotion. Of course I like to think I would, and I say this now, but then I remember what Peter said when he fiercely promised he'd never disown his lord, and yet on night when the Messiah needed him most, he denied him three times. Fortunately, Peter realized his sin and repented. Tradition says he was eventually killed for his belief.

This time of the year also reminds me that God is watching over his people. He cared about his temple and kept the menorah burning for eight days. I think it was a sign he was on their side. He gave them victory, but the holiday isn't about the victory. It's about the miracle in the temple and how God sustained them after the victory. Although things seemed dire, he brought them out of it and he helped them consecrate his temple. I love the story of Hanukkah because it encourages me.

It's funny because a lot of people see Hanukkah as the Jewish Christmas. Its importance is pretty low compared with the High Holidays such as Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, but Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas has elevated it. I know some people may wonder I, as a believer in Christ, don't celebrate Christmas, but I think that might be another post. Keep your eye out if it really interested you.

Also, I have my own giveaway for Finding FionaPassages, and (bonus!) Beyond Home. If you comment here, I will randomly choose three people to win a copy of whichever ebook they prefer. Just answer two questions: 
- What's your favorite holiday custom this time of the year? Christmas, Hanukkah, whatever! 
- Which ebook do you want if you win? Finding Fiona, Passages, or Beyond Home?

Contest closes midnight on the 28th, and I'll choose the winners on the 29th.

THIS post is about Hanukkah. . .and the Festival of Books! We have eight participating authors:

Stephanie Abbott writing as Emma Jameson, author of Ice Blue (a cozy mystery): Blog and Twitter
Danielle Blanchard, author of Death Wish (paranormal romance): Blog and Twitter
Justin Dennis, author of Through The Portal (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter
Lisa Grace, author of Angel in the Shadows and Angel in the Storm (YA fantasy): Blog and Twitter
Jonathan Gould, author of Doodling and Flidderbugs (both humorous fantasies): Blog and Twitter
Craig Hansen, author of SHADA (YA thriller): Blog and Twitter
Larry Kahn, author of The Jinx (thriller) and King of Paine (suspense): Blog and Twitter
Emily Ann Ward, author of Finding Fiona (YA Sci-Fi) and Passages (YA short stories): Blog and Twitter

We'll all be posting during Hanukkah, but here's your chance to enter the giveaway to win all twelve of our books. You can gain entries by tweeting about the entry, following out blogs and twitters, or liking us on Facbeook. So please spread the word!


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