Hanukah and Christmas

Hanukah and Christmas

As a Jewish Christian, I celebrate Hanukah and Christmas.

Hanukah occurs in December.  I think that Hanukah has become a modern Jewish substitute for Christmas (presents are given).  Originally this festival celebrates the Maccabees’ defeat of the Greeks in 165 BC. The Greeks had stopped the sacrifices at the Temple.  They were oppressing God’s people and trying to bring an end to God’s one true religion.  But the Maccabees trusted in God and defeated their enemies.  It was just like the time of the Judges and other Old Testament events when God defeated the enemies of his people.

After 100 years or so of independence the Jews were then dominated by the Romans.  During this time Jesus came and died for his people’s sins.  Later, the Jews were defeated by the Romans in 70 AD, and the Temple was destroyed.  The Zealots had seen themselves as modern-day Maccabees.  If they trusted in God, God would defeat the Romans, they thought, and save his people.  But having rejected their Messiah, they were not trusting in God, and they were defeated.

The rabbis then had a problem with the story of Hanukah, because it encouraged fighting against the enemies of God’s people.  They didn’t want to see their people slaughtered again.  And so they changed the focus of the story.  They made up a legend that said the following: when the Maccabees retook the Temple from the Greeks and rededicated it,[1] they only found enough oil to light the Temple menorah for one day.  But God did a miracle and the oil lasted for eight days.  Thus the modern festival’s slogan is “A great miracle happened there”.  Well actually, it didn’t!  But the rabbis wanted to change the focus of the Hanukah story.

My family celebrates Hanukah.  We light the candles for Hanukah for eight nights.  Why?  Well, why not?!  We don’t need to celebrate the festival of course.  We have the fulfilment of Hanukah and all the festivals in Jesus.  But it’s my heritage as a Jew, so I do celebrate it.  I am free in Christ to do so, or not.

My family also celebrates Christmas.  As with Hanukah, Christmas is not in the Bible.  As with Hanukah, if you trust in Jesus, there is no need to celebrate Christmas.  What counts is trusting in Jesus all year round, on Christmas day and every day.  Believing the gospel and living it out is what counts.  So we don’t need to celebrate Christmas either.  But we do celebrate it usually.  We are free to do so, or not.

Hanukah is an opportunity to talk to Jewish people about God, about faith in God, and about Jesus.  Christmas is an opportunity to present the gospel too. So I’m happy to keep both festivals and to use both evangelistically from time to time.  Keeping festivals is neither here nor there.  Keeping the gospel is what counts.

Photo Credit: Google Images  http://www.cbn.com
[1] This is what the word “Hanukah” means: rededication.  See John 10:22


  1. Lyn

    Hi Martin, with all due respect, would this argument work for all other religions’ festivals? e.g. if my family were all Wicca & I had been Wiccan, then is it ok to celebrate their festivals & see them as opportunities to preach Christ. What about Muslim festivals? If my family worship Allah, should I take the same stance?

    I want you to know that I love Jewish people and my heritage is Jewish down one line of my family about 3 generations ago. My children have Jewish heritage from their father’s side also. So be assured I am not anti-Semitic!

  2. Martin Pakula (Author)

    Hi Lyn. I take your point. It would depend on whether there was something inherently wrong with such a festival or worship. I don’t think there is anything wrong with Jewish festivals except for some very minor details. I think we do many things that are ‘cultural’ and if they are not sinful/ wrong I can’t see that there is a problem. I think freedom in Christ allows me to do such things, or not.

  3. docthanop

    Hi Martin, Thanks for this. I was wondering if you could answer a few questions of mine since L. Morris, FF Bruce and Lindars didn’t help much. John 10:22 says, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem”. Is Hanukah observed today in the same way as Jesus’ day? (I take the implied answer from your post is ‘no’) Did Jesus observe Hanukah? And are there implications for sola Scriptura given that the precedent for the festival is not in the canonical Scriptures?

    • Martin Pakula (Author)

      Hi Chris. No, Hanukah is not observed now the way it was in Jesus’ time. The Zealots modelled themselves on the Maccabees in the Roman Jewish war (66-70 AD), thinking they would win if they trusted in God, just like the Maccabees. But unlike the Maccabees, they didn’t trust in God, for they had rejected their Messiah. They were beaten and slaughtered by the Romans. The Hanukah legend celebrated today is in the Talmud and was made up by the rabbis in response to the loss of that war in order to focus attention on a miracle God is supposed to have done rather than focus on we Jews defeating our enemies. As for Jesus, I would have thought he would have celebrated Hanukah and all the festivals. As for Sola Scriptura, there would never have been a command of God to celebrate this festival. Many religions, modern Judaism included, lay on people a burden of keeping lots of religious rules that are not commanded by God. However that doesn’t mean you should NOT keep such things. You would be free not to keep such things, or to keep them – doesn’t matter. Of course that is not the case if it were truly commanded by God.

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