Table of Contents
- The History of Hanukkah
- The History of Christmas
- The Differences in How Hanukkah and Christmas Are Celebrated
- How Are Hanukkah and Christmas Similar?
- Can Believers Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas?
- The Takeaway
Hanukkah and Christmas may appear to be on opposite ends of the holiday spectrum. However, you will be surprised to find similarities between the two, especially as they relate to the heart of the Believer and their relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Before unwrapping the similarities, let’s explore their histories and differences.
The History of Hanukkah
Hanukkah is a story of overcoming in the face of adversity. It is a story of deliverance from Hellenistic mindsets and culture. Also known as the “Festival of Lights,” Hanukkah is a historical account of how the Maccabean army, against all odds, gained victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Then, after the victory was won, the Jewish people stepped out in faith and rededicated their Temple to the Lord with minimal provision.
Their story is a true representation of the principle of multiplication!
The similarities listed below are some of the beautiful benefits Believers can tap into when celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas.
The History of Christmas
Christmas, like Hanukkah, has a long history. However, unlike Hanukkah, Christmas did not start with a desire to serve God. Before Jesus was born, humanity found that celebrating during the long winter months helped them find encouragement for what would come after the cold and dark season. These celebrations often focused on life and birth.
During the long nights and cold weather, pagans (those outside the Hebrew faith) wanted hope. They discovered celebrating in anticipation of the longer, warmer days to come provided some relief.
How Yuletide Became Connected to Christmas…
Yule is a festival that celebrates the winter solstice. Yule’s roots are in Germanic and Scandinavian culture and were observed before the birth of Christ.
As Christianity spread among the nations, it reached a number of Gentile nations that already had deeply ingrained traditions within their culture. They did not want to let some of these traditions go, so they became associated with Christmas. Yule was one of these traditions.
It was custom for fathers and sons to drag evergreen trees into their homes to remind them of the coming spring days of green and life that they desired. They would burn the wood with the hope of good fortune to come and to light up the long cold nights. As mentioned, this was a holiday that the people did not want to let go of, but Jesus’ birth was now included as part of it.
How Saturn and Mithra Became Connected to Christmas…
As Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire, the existing culture and traditions greatly influenced how Christmas would be observed. Near the coming of the winter solstice, the Roman people would honor the false god, Saturn, who was the god of agriculture. They also honored Mithra, a sun god who was said to have been born on December 25.
The supposed birth date of the sun god, Mithra, was considered by some to be the holiest day of the year. As Christianity and Jesus began to infiltrate the culture and the hearts of those who believed, it has been said that Jesus’ birth date was set to the same date as Mithra, creating an easier transition in the culture.
As you can see, Christmas has a number of customs and origins that are far from a belief in the Lord but were accepted by Believers of old to create easier transitions for new converts. Many traditions continue to this day due to years of custom and forgetting of origins. However, Believers today, along with those of the past, keep the Lord Jesus Christ as their focus.
It is important to note that we do not know Jesus’ exact time or date of birth. Yet, we do know He is the true Light of the world, as stated in God’s Word.
The Differences in How Hanukkah and Christmas Are Celebrated
As previously mentioned, Hanukkah and Christmas are often thought to be quite different, especially in how they are portrayed in the culture.
- Hanukkah colors typically include white, blue, and silver, and sometimes gold as it is associated with light.
- Christmas colors are traditionally red and green, with some silver or gold.
- Food associated with Hanukkah is often cooked in or made with oil, such as the traditional jelly-filled donuts and latkes. This signifies the miracle of God providing enough oil to keep the Hanukkiah lit for eight days. Traditional recipes of brisket and kugel, among others, are also included in the festive eight-day occasion.
- Food associated with Christmas is sweets and baked goods: such as cookies, fudge, candies, and pies. Recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation make their way to tables throughout the Christmas season.
- Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting the Hanukkiah. The Hanukkiah, a specific type of menorah, is lit for Hanukkah. It has eight branches, whereas a typical ceremonial Menorah has six.
- Christmas is celebrated by decorating an evergreen tree with lights and ornaments. There are others, but this is one tradition that has lasted for generations.
To discover more about the difference between the Hanukkiah and the Menorah, click HERE.
How Are Hanukkah and Christmas Similar?
Before we dive into the similarities between Hanukkah and Christmas, we must take note that neither of the words “Hanukkah” nor “Christmas” is found directly listed in the Bible. Likewise, we are never told how to celebrate them.
However, there is a reference to Jesus observing the “Feast of Dedication,” or Hanukkah, in John 10:22-23. With all of this in mind, we must understand there are many man-made traditions in both holidays.
Believers can see the similarities between Hanukkah and Christmas, as both have a strong connection to God’s promises, provision, victory, and new beginnings.
- Hanukkah: The light associated with Hanukkah as the Hanukkiah candles are lit with the Servant candle (representing Yeshua to Believers) exhibits how God provides the miracle of light in the midst of trial and darkness. Hanukkah is also referred to as the “Festival of Lights.”
- Christmas: Likewise, Jesus, referred to as the Light, was born into this dark and broken world. He provided the light that gave life. Therefore, we celebrate His miraculous birth!
“Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”
Both are a picture of God stepping in with His rescue plan. He provided the Light from Heaven that shines to the world.
“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
- Hanukkah: God is the reason the Maccabees fought. They wanted the freedom to serve their Lord. God gave them the power to win and the provision to rededicate the Temple in a way that honored Him.
- Christmas: For Believers, God is at the heart of the Christmas season. Jesus, the very Son of God, prophesied by Isaiah, came from Heaven to Earth as a baby.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
- Hanukkah: The Hanukkah story highlights the miracles of victory and provision. The Maccabees miraculously conquered the Syrian army. They also witnessed God’s miraculous provision for the Temple Menorah to stay lit for eight days (enough time to consecrate more oil) with only a day’s worth of oil.
- Christmas: Any birth through a virgin mother would be a miracle in itself. Yet in the days of Mary and Joseph, not only did Mary, a virgin, give birth, it was to the Son of God. This is one of the greatest miracles God has ever performed. This is a reason to praise!
Throughout Jesus’ life on earth, His death, resurrection, ascension, and even today, miracle after miracle came and are still coming to pass. Miracles from God are at the heart of both Hanukkah and Christmas.
“You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples.”
- Hanukkah: Throughout history, the Jewish people were forced out of their land because of disobedience. Yet God is a God of second chances. He speaks to His children through the prophet Jeremiah saying “…I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). In fact, Jesus associated forgiveness with God’s character of enduring patience, instructing to forgive “seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22).
Over and over again, God gave His people new chances, and the Maccabees were no exception. They chased after God, and He heard them, giving them a second chance. Though they were outmatched on the battlefield, God was on their side. He gave them a second chance to restore and rededicate the Temple for worship to Him.
- Christmas: Jesus’ birth was a second chance not only for the Jewish people but for all of God’s creation! We all come from Adam and Eve, who fell, leading every generation into a sin nature. Yet, God gave us His Son, Yeshua the Messiah.
The Lord gave us our second chance through Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Through His blood, we have been redeemed!
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
Can Believers Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas?
As Believers, we can see how the holidays point to God’s miracles, provision, hope, mercy, and restoration. Both Hanukkah and Christmas tell us that rebirth, rededication, new beginnings, and life are part of God’s ultimate plan for redemption and salvation.
Furthermore, Hanukkah and Christmas both point to Jesus as the way, truth, and life.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”—John 14:6
- Hanukkah: Hanukkah celebrates the restoration brought to God’s people through the Maccabees. The victory broke them free from their oppressors and brought them back into the instruction and patterns for a life of worship in serving God. Their hope and hearts were restored.
- Christmas: Jesus’ birth started a chain of events that brought restoration to all who have been, are, and will ever be willing to accept Him as Lord and Savior. He restored both Jew and Gentile to the Father and gave us His Holy Spirit to live within us. As a result, we can be restored to Him daily.
God is the ultimate Restorer.
“… Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began.”
- Hanukkah: Hanukkah celebrates the hope brought to the Maccabees. After years of fighting to reclaim their freedom and ability to serve God, they received victory against all odds. Then, God allowed the oil to last, providing light. This light brought them the hope that God was with them and would complete the task of rededicating the Temple.
- Christmas: Jesus, through His birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, brings hope to the world. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.”
Jesus is the hope our souls long for. Even the Gentiles, “…who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). God has given true life and hope.
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
- Hanukkah: Hanukkah is a celebration of life. When the Maccabees were faced with death, God stepped in and provided life.
The lit Hanukkiah is a reminder that God is with us, and because of this, we have abundant life. A life full in the Lord cannot be taken away by people, places, or things.
- Christmas: Jesus was, is, and will always be, our life—on earth and on through eternity. Through His blood, we are given life and the Holy Spirit who guides us into abundant life.
“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
Hanukkah and Christmas have many traditions and long histories. There are a number of differences. However, there are many similarities as well.
The beauty for Believers is this: You can observe Hanukkah and Christmas in an honoring and transforming way.
As you enter into this season, ask Holy Spirit to reveal God’s…
- Second chances
Focus on these things, and He will remind you of the abundant life you have in Jesus.