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"Home for the Haggadah" this Advent ~ an at-home special meal and celebration

This topic kicks-off with some background and ideas about an at-home Advent ritual story-telling (Haggadah) meal. The post below this one has the "Haggadah" script. You are welcome to add our thoughts and suggestions around the topic.

Introducing "Haggadah" into our Homes This Advent

COVID-19 threatens to be the Grinch that stole Christmas in 2020 as social-distancing and travel restrictions cancel or curtail our church gatherings, community events, parties, and family get-togethers.

And yet, part of me is excited for the "mother of invention" in this crisis -- an opportunity to do something different this Advent, something that might help us get out of the spiritual ruts and worn-out traditions of the season --especially at home. Or at the very least, something unexpected that will help us cope and give us hope at the end of a very trying year.

The "Home for the Haggadah" event outlined in the next post does that. It brings Advent into the home in a special way with many of the same touchpoints found in a "normal" year.

In many ways, Christian education has been preparing for this crisis for a very long time. Every year we've been organizing events and creative lessons to help people focus on the reason for the season. And this year we've been encouraging "at-home" religious instruction like never before (and getting a better "buy-in" from many families than ever before). All that's needed is some creative thinking -- which is never in short supply here at Rotation.org or Christian education teams!

When I went looking for a celebration of the Christmas story that could take place at home around a meal, and involve ritual and scripture I didn't have to look very far! Those elements are found in the two Jewish festivals which Jesus himself celebrated, the festivals of Hannukah and Passover. (See John 10:22 and Matthew 26:26.)

Like most Sunday School teachers, I've done Passover Seders to teach the Exodus story. I've even helped write Seder lessons here at Rotation.org. Here's a Last Supper Seder lesson, one that uses the Seder format to retell the story of the Cross, and some Seder ideas in our public forum Seder posts.

seasonoflightMost of us  have never done anything with Hanukkah for two reasons:  (1) Hanukkah happens at the SAME TIME as Advent, and (2) the story comes from the "Apocrypha" -- a part of the Bible which Protestants respect but don't consider canon and don't teach in Sunday School. AND YET...  here's Hanukkah the "Festival of Light" celebrated at home with traditional foods and candles RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE of Advent, the "Season of Light".

"Knock knock."
"Who's there?"
"Hagga"
"Hagga" who?
"Ha-gga-dah new idea for Advent this year!"

"Haggadah"

"Haggadah" is the Hebrew word for "storytelling." In Jewish rabbinic writings (The Talmud), "haggadah" is what they call the Passover Seder (a meal centered around the telling of the Exodus story). But technically speaking, Hanukkah and Advent are "haggadahs" too, as is the Lord's Supper and Holy Week itself because they are special times when we retell a special story with special scriptures, rituals, foods, and singing.

Though it's a Hebrew word, the concept of "haggadah" is not unique to Judaism or Christianity. Ritual meals and storytelling are found across cultures and throughout history wherever human beings hunger for community and religious meaning. From campfires to Stonehenge, in great Cathedrals and around your dining room table, we create special places and events to tell our most special stories -- the stories of where we come from, who we are, and to whom we belong, and where we are going.

The Hanukkah "Haggadah" (storytelling)

Also known as the "Festival of Dedication" or "Festival of Lights," Hanukkah means "dedication" or "consecration" in Hebrew. The Festival of Hanukkah celebrates the story of the Jewish Maccabean revolt and triumph over their Greek oppressors and rededication of the Jewish Temple in the 2nd Century B.C. Part of the story recalls the miraculous sacred oil that didn't run out during the Temple dedication. To remember the story, celebrants light eight candles over eight nights, give gifts, and feast on traditional foods many of which are fried in oil (rich foods populate Advent celebrations too).

There are obvious thematic parallels between Hanukkah and Advent, such as candles and light (light coming into the world, Jn 1), gift-giving, dedication, and feasting are serendipitously coincidental. Hanukkah's date was set by 1 Maccabees 4:36-52, whereas the nearby date of Christmas' was set by a 4th century A.D. Pope. Advent is "worship-centric" while Hanukkah has no special service. 

The following YouTube video has an excellent explanation of Hanukkah, how Jews typically celebrate it, and how Christians can adapt its common themes. https://youtu.be/MfZG8lQm3RM

In the following posts, I'm going to suggest an at-home Advent Haggadah that draws on practices found in both the Seder and Hanukkah celebrations to create a fun ritual retelling of the Advent story for families to share at home. IIt will include traditional foods of course, and it includes Advent candles rather than a Menorah. The story of the Maccabees isn't part of it either, just some of the home-use ideas.

You might even call it:

"Home for the Haggadah"

I hope you enjoy these ideas and will add to them. Continue on down for my Advent Haggadah and suggestions from others.

<>< Neil

Neil MacQueen is a Presbyterian minister specializing in Christian education. He is also the Lead Writer for the Rotation.org Writing Team.

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Last edited by Neil MacQueen
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