Hanukkah Reflections For Christmas

Christmas and Hanukkah fall on the same day this year – this is only the fourth time this has happened in 100 years! Even though they are always very close in time, I believe that this year’s special occasion requires special reflections. Hence the name of this post: Hanukkah Reflections for Christmas.  

 

The Festival of Lights

For many people in the diaspora – both Jews celebrating Hanukkah and Gentiles observing this celebration – Hanukkah is all about dreidels and latkes. However, if you happen to be in Israel during Hanukkah, go to a children’s party in a kindergarten or elementary school. You would be amazed, as was I many years ago, that it is all about light and lights! Many Hanukkah celebrations begin in full darkness, then the light of a candle – the first Hanukkah candle – pierces the darkness, and then – more candles and more lights! It’s very beautiful and very impressive!  One of the central songs sung during Hanukkah is called BANU CHOSHECH LEGARESH – “WE CAME TO DRIVE AWAY THE DARKNESS” – and this is indeed the overwhelming feeling one gets during these celebrations: The light came to overcome the darkness!  

In this sense, one can’t miss the connection between Hanukkah and Christmas. I don’t believe that Yeshua was born on December 25 (see the article here, on this blog: “When Was the Silent Night?”), but in a sense, it doesn’t matter. For millions of believers, Christmas is a celebration of the true Light coming into the world!  One thing that seems to me absolutely amazing about Christmas, is the fact that it happens in the darkest time of the year (at least, in the northern hemisphere). This is so beautiful and symbolic: In the world’s darkest hour, the light comes!  And the same is true about Hanukkah: BANU CHOSHEKCH LEGARESH – Light comes into the world, and darkness cannot overcome it!

 

Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah

We read in the Gospel of John: And it was at Jerusalem the Feast of the Dedication, and it was winter.  And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch.   What is this winter “Feast of Dedication”? It’s not mentioned in Leviticus 23, where all the biblical feasts are described and their observance is commanded. So what did Jesus celebrate in the Temple?

Of course, John is referring to Hanukkah (Hebrew for dedication: חֲנוּכָּה ). The story of Hanukkah is preserved in the books of the Maccabees. However, these books are not part of the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), and therefore, surprisingly, we find the clearest mention of Hanukkah in the Bible, in the New Testament!  Not only did Yeshua celebrate Hanukkah, but he observed it in the same Temple that had been miraculously rededicated by the Maccabees just a few generations earlier. In order to understand it, let’s turn to the history.

 

History of Hanukkah

Hanukkah commemorates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid Empire.  It happened in the 2nd century BCE – the intertestamental period – which is why Hanukkah is not mentioned in the Tanach. The Jewish people were then living under the oppression of King Antiochus IV and Hellenistic pagan practices. The ruling Syrian dynasty of the Seleucids required full assimilation in all aspects of life: language, arts, lifestyle – everything was to conform to the Greek way of life.  Antiochus enacted a series of harsh decrees against the Jews. Jewish worship was forbidden; the scrolls of the Law were confiscated and burned; Sabbath rest, circumcision and the dietary laws were prohibited under penalty of death. In 164 BCE, Antiochus even desecrated the Temple: the altars, the utensils, the golden Menorah were all defiled.

Antiochus’s men went from town to town and from village to village to force the inhabitants to worship pagan gods. One day they arrived in the village of Modiin where an old priest, Mattityahu, lived. There they built an altar and demanded that Mattityahu offer sacrifices to the Greek gods. Mattityahu replied, “I, my sons and my brothers will remain loyal to the covenant which our G‑d made with our fathers!” After that, Mattityahu left the village of Modiin and fled, together with his sons, to the hills of Judea and all loyal and courageous Jews joined them. Thus, the uprising began. After Mattityahu’s death, his son Judah became leader. Judah was called “Maccabee” – a word composed of the initial letters of the four Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem, “Who is like You, O G‑d” – and therefore it is called the Maccabean Revolt. Realistically, the Maccabees had absolutely no chance of winning. The Syrian army consisted of more than 40,000 men – it was another David vs. Goliath scenario – but, as in the story of David, God performed a miracle, and after a series of battles, the war was won.

When the Maccabees, miraculously, recaptured the Temple, they had to cleanse and restore it. They entered the Temple and cleared it of the idols placed there by the Syrians. They wanted to light Menorah, as it is commanded in the Torah: Bring you pure oil of pressed olives for the light, to cause the lamp to burn continually.[1] However, according to the Talmud, they found only a single jar of undefiled oil, and that was only enough to last a single day. Taking a leap of faith, they relit the Menorah , and by a miracle of God, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. In memory of this, Hanukkah, an eight-day celebration, was established.  On each day, an additional branch of the nine branched Hanukkiah is lit with the shamash (“helper” candle), which sits on the middle branch.

 

The Light Shines in the darkness

This is the traditional story – but there is something more to be aware of. Not many people realize that the Maccabees had not won their independence when they proclaimed the Festival of Hanukkah.  Antiochus was still their ruler, and Syrian troops still occupied Eretz Yisrael and even most of Jerusalem. The light of the first Hanukkah truly shone in the midst of the darkness!

This reminds us of the words of John about Yeshua: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. [2] The Light of Yeshua also came at a time of the darkness and foreign oppression; the hand of Rome was heavy upon Israel, the nation could hardly bear this oppressive yoke. No wonder everybody waited for a deliverer – hoping and believing the footsteps of this deliverer had already been heard! In the Gospels, we see again and again this discrepancy between the people’s expectations and hopes, and Yeshua’s real mission – that “heavenly light” that John refers to. In this sense, the light of Hanukkah, shining in the darkness, prophetically foreshadowed this Light of the Messiah!

Thus, we may say that both celebrations, Hanukkah and Christmas, look to the same Messiah, but from two different perspectives: Hanukkah prophesied His Light before He came; Christmas celebrates His Light after He came. They are on opposite sides of His coming – like two olives on each side of the Menorah in the beautiful vision of Zechariah that is read in synagogues on the Sabbath of Hanukkah:

 

“I am looking, and there is a lampstand of solid gold with a bowl on top of it, and on the stand seven lamps with seven pipes to the seven lamps. Two olive trees are by it, one at the right of the bowl and the other at its left. So I answered and spoke to the angel who talked with me, saying, “What are these, my lord?”

Then the angel who talked with me answered and said to me:

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts[3].

 PS  I had  finished writing this post already when I saw this amazing article: “Rare coin from King Antiochus’s rule discovered in Jerusalem”

Read about this “piece of history that brings the stories of Hanukkah right up to present day”:

http://nr.news-republic.com/Web/ArticleWeb.aspx?regionid=1&articleid=80616800

 

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all my     wonderful readers!

May your hearts and your homes be filled with His Light!

 

[1] Exo,27:20

[2] John 1:5

[3] Zech. 4:2-6

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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Join the conversation (27 comments)

Leave a Reply

  1. Dan

    Thank you Julia,
    However, even though the majority of Christians observe it, the origin of Christmas is pagan, so why make it look Biblical by linking it to Hanukkah?

    1. Julia Blum

      Of course, the origin of Christmas is pagan, – yet, for real believers it is a celebration of the true Light coming in the world , and in this sense, it is connected to the Festival of Lights – Hanukkah.

  2. Anita Boyne

    Julia you are a wonderful writer. Thank you for your insights. It is a first for me to read the meaning of Hanukkah and to contemplate how my Saviour Jesus, is the light of the world and has been lighting the way for the Jewish people (and us Gentiles). This morning as I was studying my Bible in the book of Revelations, I saw in my mind how much the righteous have suffered at the hands of a very dark world ruled by a very dark Lord. And my heart was very heavy for all the matyrs and saints killed for their faith. But your article just “happened” to be available and accessible on eTeacher and it has spoken much to me. Thank you and Shalom.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you for sharing Anita, I’ve been really blessed by your comment! I hope, the articles on this Blog will keep speaking to you. Thank you also for your kind words about my writing; if you like it you might be interested to check out my books on Amazon. Have a blessed New year!

  3. Angelika Walter

    Shalom, Julia
    interesting article, as always. I wish you and yours a wonderful Chanukkah. I will celebrate Christmas with my little congregation and my family, but I will also remember the story of the Maccabees.
    I like this song, yes, it speaks to my heart.
    Angelika

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Angelika! I hope you’ve had a great time! Happy New Year to you and your precious family! Be shana Habaa beYirushalaim – I hope to meet you in Jerusalem next year!

  4. Sharon Stern

    Thank you, Julia for these thoughts. Our minds are on the same subject. I am spending the Christmas Holiday with my brother and his family, beautiful evangelical Christians with a deep desire to understand the Hebraic roots of their faith. I have been on the journey of Messianic Judaism as a gentile for over 20 years and I asked myself the question: Should Christians celebrate Hanukkah? Is there any scriptural basis? And, indeed as you described, we see our Lord and Savior celebrating this very historic event in the very same temple that had been defiled by those who would defy truth and attempt to snuff out the light of Torah observance and allegiance to HaShem. There is nothing new under the sun. Same cycle of events recur throughout the ages. Had the Maccabees failed in their revolt; Israel, Jewish monotheism and even the advent of Messiah arriving would not have occurred. We would not have the Light of the World shining through the darkness to pierce our hearts and cleanse our temples.

    This season I am very drawn to music and lyrics to express my thoughts, and I have a wonderful song about Hannukah written by a Messianic Jewish singer/songwriter here in the US, Marty Goetz. I hope it speaks to your hearts and fans the flames of desire to purify our hearts so that we may serve Him in truth! Hag SaMeach!

    Chanukah
    Music and Lyrics by Marty Goetz

    Make my life Your temple
    L-rd at this season start
    To pull down every idol I have raised up in my heart

    On this Chanukah
    On this Feast of Dedication
    I dedicate myself to You

    Take my defiled altar
    Come and cleanse and come repair
    So every time I falter I can run to meet you there

    On this Chanukah
    On this Feast of Dedication
    I dedicate myself to You

    And with every candle on the menorah
    That illuminates the night
    Comes a prayer You’d kindle
    In me Y’shua
    A desire for Your fire, for Your light

    Make of my mortal body
    A house worthy of Your name
    Rid me of what’s ungodly and every hidden thing of shame

    On this Chanukah
    On this Feast of Dedication
    I dedicate myself to You

    Take my supply of oil
    Not enough to burn long I fear
    But, oh how I pray I may one day say “A great miracle happened here!”

    On this Chanukah
    On this Feast of Dedication
    I dedicate myself to You
    Oh, Yeshua, I dedicate my life to You!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiZkfQN7ps0

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Sharon, for your profound comment, as always, – and for this beautiful song. I also love Marty Goetz. Hope you had a wonderful celebration! CHag Hanukkah Sameach!Happy New Year – and Beshana Habaa beYirushalaim!

  5. VILAIRE MATHEUS

    HANUKKAH was real, Jesus birth was real; but Christmas celebration is pagan, unreal, mascara.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Vilaire, of course, I understand your point: the date is not real, and all the commercialism around Christmas is very pagan indeed and has nothing to do with Yeshua. Yet, as I wrote in this post, for millions of believers, Christmas is a celebration of the true Light coming into the darkness of this world – and this is very real, both the Light coming to the world and the joy about this Light!Once again, I don’t believe that Yeshua was born on December 25 (see the article here, on this blog: When Was the Silent Night?) – but in a sense, it doesn’t matter: I do respect it – and I do share this joy!

  6. JAMES ASHMORE

    Hallelujah! YESHUA, the SHAMASH, the Servant Lamp in the CENTER of the 7 lamps, Anointed with the Spirit “without measure”, came to relight the Menorah to its fullest – not only for eight days, but what they represent, not only staying lit for the first 6,000 years, but through the 7th, or Millennium, but beyond to the 8th, or eternal new heavens and new earth! YESHUA is our ever-present Menorah “I AM the LIGHT of the world…!” “Lo, I AM with you always, even to the end of the world!” He has the SEVEN EYES (omniscience) and the SEVEN HORNS (all Power)! He is the ALEPH and TAV standing invisible in the CENTER of the first 7 words in Genesis 1:1
    filling His entire creation with LIGHT! HAPPY HANUKKAH TO ALL!

    1. Julia Blum

      Very profound and very insightful comment, James! Thank you so much! Hag Sameach!

  7. Antwi Felix Twum

    Thanks and God richly bless you, Ms. Blum. Now my headache; do we Christians, the Pentecostals celebrate Christmas because it coincide with the celebration of the Hanukkah, (in full conviction) or just like any other perso’s view; Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day? The new testament teaches us…..” and as many as received Him, they were given power to be called children of God”. All Christians, believers have therefore been given power to be called the children of the Israeli God, if this scripture reading is truly read from the infallible word of the same Israeli God, then I would also want to ask the same question you asked earlier, “when actually was the silent night”?

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you Antwi! Specially for you, I just put this post, “When was the Silent Night? ” on the Blog Post Slider , so you can see it, click on it and read it. This is my personal opinion and my answer to your question, but I know that many believe the same. Don’t forget to read the comments also, they add a lot to this discussion. Blessings and Merry Christmas!

  8. Angeline

    Julia

    Thank you for sharing such good reflections. Happy Hanukkah and Shanah tovah!

  9. James

    Beautiful article. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

  10. Rado

    Fact that Chrismass and Hanuka are at the same time, show that Christian Bishops even before centuries wanted to preserve vital connection with jewish roots.

    1. Julia Blum

      I wish you were right, Rado. Unfortunately it’s not true. The majority of “christian Bishops even before centuries”, were very decisive in disconnecting from Jewish roots.

  11. Carmelo Vella

    INDEED glorious and amazing gracious GOD ALMIGHTY.
    Who is like my GOD THE HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL.
    PRAISE HIS NAME FROM EVERLASTING TO EVERLASTING

  12. David Russell

    Shalom and favor to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Messiah Yeshua. Ms. Blum, thank you for yet another wonderful reflection that bring the body of Messiah together as grafted-in members partaking of the light and blessings bestowed on us by Adonai!
    David Russell

  13. Cheryel Lemley-McRoy

    I also see a correlation between the cleansing of the Temple and the work of God in our lives. All of us have walked in darkness, we have sinned and the Enemy has defiled our temple. But Yeshua has come to cleanse our temple by His blood, the blood of the Passover Lamb. And G-d’s Holy Spirit lights the light of Pentecost in our hearts. Chanukah is indeed a foreshadowing of Yeshua’s coming.

    1. Julia Blum

      It is a beautiful and profound thought , Cheryel, about the correlation between the cleansing and rededication of the Temple and the work of God in our lives!The song that Sharon shared here (see her comment below) speaks also of this parallel. Thank you! Many blessings for this wonderful season!

  14. John Ashcraft

    As you say, Chanukkah is not mentioned in the Tanakh, then why is it in Haggai 2.

    Hag 2:1 In the seventh month, in the one and twentieth day of the month, came the word of the LORD by the prophet Haggai, saying,
    Hag 2:2 Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying,
    Hag 2:3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
    Hag 2:4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
    Hag 2:5 According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
    Hag 2:6 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;
    Hag 2:7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.
    Hag 2:8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.
    Hag 2:9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
    Hag 2:10 In the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, in the second year of Darius, came the word of the LORD by Haggai the prophet, saying,
    Hag 2:11 Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ask now the priests concerning the law, saying,
    Hag 2:12 If one bear holy flesh in the skirt of his garment, and with his skirt do touch bread, or pottage, or wine, or oil, or any meat, shall it be holy? And the priests answered and said, No.
    Hag 2:13 Then said Haggai, If one that is unclean by a dead body touch any of these, shall it be unclean? And the priests answered and said, It shall be unclean.
    Hag 2:14 Then answered Haggai, and said, So is this people, and so is this nation before me, saith the LORD; and so is every work of their hands; and that which they offer there is unclean.
    Hag 2:15 And now, I pray you, consider from this day and upward, from before a stone was laid upon a stone in the temple of the LORD:
    Hag 2:16 Since those days were, when one came to an heap of twenty measures, there were but ten: when one came to the pressfat for to draw out fifty vessels out of the press, there were but twenty.
    Hag 2:17 I smote you with blasting and with mildew and with hail in all the labours of your hands; yet ye turned not to me, saith the LORD.
    Hag 2:18 Consider now from this day and upward, from the four and twentieth day of the ninth month, even from the day that the foundation of the LORD’S temple was laid, consider it.
    Hag 2:19 Is the seed yet in the barn? yea, as yet the vine, and the fig tree, and the pomegranate, and the olive tree, hath not brought forth: from this day will I bless you.
    Hag 2:20 And again the word of the LORD came unto Haggai in the four and twentieth day of the month, saying,
    Hag 2:21 Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I will shake the heavens and the earth;
    Hag 2:22 And I will overthrow the throne of kingdoms, and I will destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the heathen; and I will overthrow the chariots, and those that ride in them; and the horses and their riders shall come down, every one by the sword of his brother.
    Hag 2:23 In that day, saith the LORD of hosts, will I take thee, O Zerubbabel, my servant, the son of Shealtiel, saith the LORD, and will make thee as a signet: for I have chosen thee, saith the LORD of hosts.

    Humanity has an end; Kislev 5777 at Jardalkalatgmail.blogspot.com

    1. Jason

      That is an interesting thought but I think there is some comfusion on dates. When the temple was rebuilt it was dedicated to God. The date in Haggai was a different date to Hanukkah. Hanukkah is 25th day of the third month. The dates referred to in Haggai 2 are on a different month, e.g. verses 10 and 18 refers to the 24th of the ninth month. there are therefore two dedications of the temple. The first happened in the summer following it’s rebuilding after the diaspora, the second in the winter after its desecration by Antiochus IV.

      Blessings,

      Jason

    2. Julia Blum

      Thank you, John, for your note! The name of the Hanukkah is not in Tanach – but it doesn’t mean that Tanach doesn’t contain prophecies about Hanukkah; I didn’t say that, i Just didn’t discuss this subject – it is a very big topic, and I couldn’t cover it in this post. Moreover, if Hanukkah has a prophetic significance ( as I claim in this article) and was God ordained and orchestrated event, – definitely, the Scripture had to prophesy about it. When we read the prophecy of Daniel, about the desolation and abomination of the sanctuary (Daniel 9), I believe it refers to the days of Antiochus as well . The prophecy of Haggai you quote, also refers to this prophetic day and prophetic season – “from this day I will bless you” (probably, Yeshua was conceived around this time, In Hanukkah season).

      1. John Ashcraft

        The creation of the earth was in the 7th month which was the first month until Abib/Aviv/Nisan became the first month in in 1441-1446 BCE. Biblically, the calendar in Leviticus 23 follows after the Exodus. Therefore Chanukkah is in the ninth month.
        Here is the calendar since the Exodus in Chapter 12 (The Passover Chapter) Abib March 15th to April 15, Month 2 April 15 to May 15, Month 3 May 15th to June 15, Month 4 June 15-July 15, Month 5 July 15 to August 15, Month 6 August 15th to September 15, Month 7th September 15th to October 15, Month 8 October 15th to November 15th, Month 9, November 15 to December 15th. Each month begins on the first sliver of the New Moon . Every 7 years you add a second month in a leap year which is called Adar 2. Each month has 29 or 30 days. The month of Kislev in 5777 began on December 1 of 2016. Therefore, December 24th is th ninth month and 24th day. Chanukkah was December 25th which is the ninth month and 25th day.
        Jardalkalatgmail.blogspot.com

      2. John Ashcraft

        Julie, Yeshua was conceived on December 15th, 4 BCE. According to Torahcalendar, that was the 4th Sabbath of the month and it was the 1st day of Chanukkah. It may have been the 3rd Sabbath but it was the Sabbath.

        There are 2 Daniel’s timeline going on presently. One began in 1947 and the other one began in 1948. The ending of the 47th one ended around Chanukkah 2016. UN is presidently electing the One World leader of the Globe who will become the Antichrist. There are 2 candidates: Kevin Rude and Obama. Obama fulfilled the role of Daniel’s timeline in 2009 with the Norwegian Peace Medallion on the 7th Day of Feast of Tabernacles and in December of that year. Using the December date of that year puts us to Chanukkah of 2016 in which timeframe Obama becomes the Antichrist. He is from the tribe of Dan and is a Muslim. After he leaves the USA, he will be moving to the Middle East to fight against Israel which will lose 2/3rds of their population. Psalm 117=2017 and Psalm 118 =2018. This year of 5777 is war, war, war between Elohim and HaSatan. Jardalkalatgmail.blogspot.com covers Leviticus 23 Feast Datesand Second Coming and the timeframe is Creation to 2018 for the dates. Creation was in 4001 BCE according to counting backwards from 2015. So the age of the earth is 6032 years. 5777=6033 (3983 BCE-6000 years =2017).