- Hanukkah is shown awash in blues, white, and silver—perhaps gold or something similar to include the holiday’s focus on light.
- Christmas, alternatively, is usually flooded by reds and greens, perhaps with some gold or silver thrown in to add a more festive feel.
- At Hanukkah, foods are frequently cooked in, or made with, oil. This reminds those eating and/or cooking of the miracle of Hanukkah—when God caused a small amount of holy oil to last eight days.
- At Christmas, baked goods or candies such as, cookies, fudge, or pie, are fairly common. The reasons for this vary from a struggle to sweeten against the cold dark month, to generations of traditions passed down through the years.
- Hanukkah is celebrated with the use of a Hanukkiah—a menorah, or what might be better known as a sort of candelabra, specifically made for the holiday, with nine branches; one to light them all, and the rest to signify each of the holiday’s eight nights.
- Christmas is celebrated with an evergreen tree—or as has occurred over time, sometimes a replica evergreen.
You could continue to point out many more little differences in HOW the holidays are celebrated, what they look like, make us feel… and even what they smell or taste like. Yet, at the heart of both—to Believers—lies certain similarities. Similarities far more important than any differences we might name.
How are Hanukkah and Christmas Similar?
First, it is important to note that NEITHER Hanukkah nor Christmas are found in the Word. God never commands us to observe them, and He never told us HOW we are to celebrate them.
There are a LOT of man-made traditions in BOTH, and even these vary from family to family, community to community, and synagogue/congregation to synagogue/congregation.
Nothing about the two is set in stone.
Yet, they BOTH have a strong—at least to Believers—connection to God’s Word; and while Christmas definitely did not begin with such a connection, we can choose to seek the good in it. We can discover how the light of Hanukkah and the light of the World celebrated at Christmas are closely tied together.
Still, it is important to understand a bit of their history to understand why they have a common theme…
History of Hanukkah
Hanukkah began, in a way, as the aftermath of warfare. The Maccabees—a Jewish priestly family—fought to reclaim their right to the land, but more so, their right to observe and serve God as He had commanded. This fight and victory is indeed the main story and history of Hanukkah—though highly involved—yet, there is a certain oral tradition that often takes center stage…
The Maccabees fought, eventually won, and when the battle was over, they found that they lacked enough holy oil for the Great Temple Menorah to remain alight until they could prepare more holy oil. This may sound a mere problem, but it was a heartbreak. For, after everything they had gone through, to not be able to light and keep lit the holy lights which God commanded to never go out… it was wrenching.
The Maccabees wanted above all else to serve God.
So, they lit the Great Menorah, though they knew they could only keep it lit for one day. It would take eight days to craft more holy oil according to God’s directions, for no other oil would do.
Then, because they took that first step, as oral tradition and faith say, a miracle happened…
The time for the holy oil to be completely used up had come and passed.
First, a few hours beyond what was expected.
Not exactly what was probable, but their access to the menorah had been many years past. Could they have miscalculated?
Then, a few more hours passed.
Surely, they began to question what was happening—they could not have been that wrong in their estimate.
A full day came and passed the time the oil should have been completely burned up. Something was not normal.
Then another day passed. A miracle for sure.
Then another, then another, until there was no question. God had stepped in. It was a miracle AND a blessing; for those who had fought so long to reclaim that which was God’s, were now able to serve Him as their ancestors had been commanded.
This miracle is what is largely remembered on Hanukkah. Though the Maccabees reclaiming what was God’s after years of hard fighting, God’s general wonder, the light of Israel in the hearts of those celebrating, and many other marvels are on view. Yet, it is less about the miracles themselves. It is about the fact that GOD showed up. That He showed His hand. It reminded them, and us, that God is faithful. That He is ever present in our lives—even in the darkest of seasons.
It is about the light of God.
Yes, and even the spinning dreidel has become traditionally connected to Hanukkah. The Hebrew letters on each side of the four-sided top are popularly known for the phrase: “a great miracle happened here/there,” harkening back to the time of the Maccabees when the great miracle of the light occurred.
Each part of this special holiday serves to remind us that God is with us. Always.
That His Word is our light. That He is able to do beyond all we could ever ask or think.
THAT is the miracle of Hanukkah.
Watch the LIVE broadcast of our Hanukkah celebration HERE.
History of Christmas
Christmas, like Hanukkah, has a long history, yet, unlike Hanukkah, Christmas did not start with a desire to serve God.
In early times—even before Jesus was born—it was not uncommon for celebrations to be held in winter, often specifically focusing on life and birth. For, when the nights grew long, the days short, and the weather turned cold, pagan peoples wanted something to give them hope… or affect the coming days.
Yule is one such observance that eventually—with the coming of Christianity—became a version of Christmas. At Yule—which the Norse people celebrated on the winter solstice before Jesus was even known to them—many fathers and sons would drag evergreen trees into their homes to remind them of the days of green and life they were currently far from. They would burn wood in the hope of good fortune, in addition to warding off the cold. And they would do all of this without acknowledging God.
When Christianity came upon the scene, old traditions were not always quick to leave. Easter, for example, also meshed pagan observances from many cultures with a belief in Jesus—old fertility festivals and the resurrection of Jesus somehow melding together into one holiday. Thus, when the ‘new’ holiday of Christmas came, trees continued to be brought into homes, but Jesus’ birth was now included.
Yet, Yule was not the only observance that would become attached to Christmas or Jesus’ birth. Other peoples, such as the Romans, would come to believe in Jesus, and they too came with prior observances they were not eager to give up.
Near the coming of the winter solstice, the Roman people would honor the false god, Saturn, who was their god of agriculture, as well as, Mithra, their sun god who was said to have been born on December 25th. Because the supposed birth date of this Roman god, Mithra, was considered by some to be the holiest day of the year, when Christianity and Jesus began to replace it, it is believed to have been chosen as Jesus’ own birth date to create an easy transition.
Thus, we see that Christmas has many, many customs and origins that are far from a belief in God but were accepted by Believers of old to create easier transitions for new converts. And they continue today, due to years of custom and a forgetting of origins.
Yet, to many Believers today—and in years past—God remains the focus.
Jesus, though we do not know the exact time or date, WAS born… and that is THE truest light. That is where beautiful similarities to Hanukkah begin…
In Part Two of this blog series we will begin to discover the ways in which Hanukkah and Christmas are similar, and how we, as Believers, can benefit from both.