Chanukah begins when the moon is least visible. It is the only Jewish holiday that occurs during the long winter nights. When we light a candle on each night of Chanukah we celebrate the ever-increasing number of flames that softly illuminate the darkness, allowing us to honor the sacred veil of darkness alongside the blessing of illumination and light.
Is their a link between Winter Solstice and Chanukah? The Talmud tells us there is with the following story:
When Adam HaRishon (the first human) was created, he was distressed by the first winter he experienced.
At the time when Chanukah (the darkest night of the year) converges with Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year), Adam noticed the days were getting increasingly shorter and darkness was setting in much sooner than before. Without lights, he struggled through the shorter days and early onset of darkness. He thought the end of world was upon him and he believed he did something wrong to make this occur.
Adam fasted and prayed for eight days to repent for whatever sins he had committed to cause the darkness to set in. When Adam noted the arrival of winter solstice and the longer days after solstice had passed, he was greatly relieved. In the end, he emerged from the experience with an understanding of natural phenomena and the nature of the world he lived in. Adam was so gladdened by his newfound understanding of the natural world, he celebrated with an eight day winter festival, establishing the festival for all time.
With regard to the dates of these festivals, the Sages taught: When Adam the first man saw that the day was progressively diminishing, as the days become shorter from the autumnal equinox until the winter solstice, he did not yet know that this is a normal phenomenon, and therefore he said: Woe is me; perhaps because I sinned the world is becoming dark around me and will ultimately return to the primordial state of chaos and disorder. And this is the death that was sentenced upon me from Heaven, as it is written: “And to dust shall you return” (Genesis 3:19). He arose and spent eight days in fasting and in prayer.Talmud
Once he saw that the season of Tevet, i.e., the winter solstice, had arrived, and saw that the day was progressively lengthening after the solstice, he said: Clearly, the days become shorter and then longer, and this is the order of the world. He went and observed a festival for eight days. Upon the next year, he observed these eight days of his celebration, as days of festivities. He, Adam, established these festivals for the sake of Heaven.
Adam feared the darkness of winter, but on the solstice and the days thereafter, an understanding dawned in his mind. Adam’s eight day festival connects Chanukah and Winter Solstice, when Adam felt elated and grateful to understand seasonal shifts and the natural world.
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