Chanukat haTekufah/Ritual for Chanukah and the Winter Solstice (Jill Hammer)

This ritual was created for a year when the winter solstice fell on Chanukah. It may be adapted to be appropriate to either occasion separately.

Step 1: Set-Up

Place an unlit menorah with the appropriate number of candles at the center of the room. In each direction, place a symbol of the element appropriate to that direction: for earth/west, a bowl of stones or sand, for water/south, a bowl or pitcher of water, for air/east, bells, a shofar, or spices, and for north/fire, a candle or representation of a flame. Have ready music for dancing, large squares of black gauze if you have them, a bowl of brightly colored beads (you can also use seeds), and a long ribbon or white cloth wrapped in colorful cord for use as a “doorway” into light (see step 7).

Step 2: Welcome

Welcome everyone to the circle. Explain that this ceremony will honor the winter solstice as a time of the growing of light. Then tell the story of Chanukah and the miraculous cruse of oil—how after the Israelites chased away their enemies who had defiled the Temple, there was only one cruse of sacred oil left to burn in the sacred lamp, yet the cruse of oil lasted for eight days, enough time to make more sacred oil. Tell the group that this story reflects the miraculous return of the sun—in winter we think it will shrivel up and disappear, yet miraculously it begins to grow again and light up the “temple” of earth.

If desired, also tell everyone the story of Adam and the winter solstice (see end of this step—you can also insert this in step 5).

When Adam saw the day gradually diminishing, he said, “Woe is me! Perhaps because I sinned, the world around me is growing darker and darker, and is about to return to chaos and confusion, and this is the death heaven has decreed for me. He then sat eight days in fast and prayer. But when the winter solstice arrived, and he saw the days getting gradually longer, he said, ‘Such is the way of the world,” and proceeded to observe eight days of festivity. The following years he observed both the eight days preceding and the eight days following the solstice as days of festivity. (Talmud, Avodah Zarah 8a)

If there is time, discuss either story together. Then proceed to Step 3.

Step 3: Welcoming the Elements

Ask one person (preferably in advance) to invoke each element. They can do this verbally or non-verbally, with poetry or with a few syllables. In our group, someone wrote a long invocation to the Shekhinah (Divine) within the earth, one person spoke the Hebrew words “ushavtem mayim besasson mimaynei hayeshuah” (with joy shall you draw water from the wells of salvation) while letting the water fall through his fingers. One person used an instrument and breathing to welcome air, and one person spoke extemporaneously about fire.

Then ask each member of the group to go and physically experience the four elements throughout the room for a few minutes. Play music during this: Linda Hirschhorn’s “Chanukah/Winter Solstice Chant” is a good choice. When people gather again, ask them which element moved them most and why.

Step 4: Exploring Darkness

This is a time of year to explore what darkness does for us, why we need winter and nighttime. In our ritual, we played music and asked everyone to become a creature of darkness: a bat, an undersea creature, an ant. We gave out dark cloth for people to play with and had a good time!

Step 5: Winter Solstice Story: Coming Out of Darkness

Gather everyone together and tell a story of the winter that covers themes of rising from darkness or helping one another through a frightening time. You can use the Adam story from Step 2, or any other story you like. I like to tell a story of Frau Holle, a mythic winter figure from Central Europe whom Jews knew as the bringer of snow. Or ask people to tell their own winter stories.

Step 6: Meditation: Welcoming Spring

After the story, ask people to lie down and pretend they are snow. Ask them to imagine melting into the earth and nourishing new seeds. Play soft, meditative music at this point (we used “Every December Sky” by Beth Nielsen Chapman). While everyone is lying down, place a stone in their hands or next to them. Wake everyone up by raising them or by playing lively music and having people dance becoming plants and trees.

Step 7: Crossing the Boundary into Light

Lay down your boundary-rope on the floor. Tell everyone that this is the boundary of the solstice. To cross it, they must give up something they have been holding on to for a long time, something they need to let go, symbolized by the stone they have been given, which is to be put down before the boundary. On the other side they must pick up something new (symbolized by the colored beads in a bowl which are to be placed on the boundary’s far side). Play music. (People will line up to cross, and when they have crossed, they will dance. ) This ritual worked very powerfully for our group.

At the end of this ritual, tell everyone to bring the bead home, place it in their doorway, and step over it as a sign of filling their home with light.

Step 8: Lighting the Menorah

Ask one person to represent the cruse of oil that lights the menorah in the Temple (or have one person dress up in that role). In our ritual, we used a special colored bead hidden in the beads that people picked up on the boundary’s far side to select the kindler of the light. Recite the blessing and have the kindler light the menorah. Sing Chanukah songs and dance in celebration!

Blessings in masculine and feminine Hebrew (depending on whether you want to invoke a masculine or feminine image of God.)

Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lehadlik ner shel Chanukah. (B’rucha at yah eloheinu ruach ha’olam asher kid’shatnu b’mitzvoteha v’tzivatnu lehadlik ner shel chanukah.)

Baruch ata adonai eloheinu melech ha’olam she’asa nisim l’avoteinu ve’imoteinu bayamim haheim u’vazman hazeh. (B’rucha at yah eloheinu ruach ha’olam she’asta nisim le’imoteinu va’avoteinu bayamim haheim u’vazman hazeh.)

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Spirit of the Universe, who has commanded us to kindle the lights of Chanukah.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Spirit of the Universe, who has done miracles for our fathers and mothers in ancient days and in modern times.

Maoz Tzur (Traditional Chanukah song with new translation)

Maoz tzur yeshuati
Lecha naeh leshabeach
Tikon beit tefilati
Vesham todah nizabeiach
Le’eit tachin matbeach
Mitzar hamnabeach
Az egmor beshir mizmor
Chanukat hamizbeach
Az egmor beshir mizmor
Chanukat hamizbeach

Rock of ages, spring of life,
To you our praise wells up within.
With the breath and fire of prayer
we make you a holy dwelling.

At the time of turning,
you set our fires burning.
We will come with song and drum
to receive your blessing.
We will come with song and drum
to receive your blessing.

End the ceremony by saying goodbye to the four elements (a good way to do this is to sing Shlomo Carlebach’s Angel song, in which each angel represents one of the four directions; see below) and/or by wishing everyone a happy Chanukah.

Angel Song:

B’shem Hashem elohei Yisrael:
miyemini Michael umismoli Gavriel,
umilfanai Uriel, ume’acharai Refael
ve’al roshi, ve’al roshi Shekhinat El.

In the name of God, the God of the wrestling-people:
on my right hand is Michael, angel of water,
and on my left is Gabriel, angel of fire,
and before me is Uriel, angel of air,
and behind me is Raphael, angel of the earth,
and above my head is the Shekhinah of God.

Step 8: Feast on latkes and jelly doughnuts!

Rabbi Jill Hammer is an author, poet, and ritualist, and works at Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project of the JCC in Manhattan.

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