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”:



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.

You might also be interested in:

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.

    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!

    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!


    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!