Judeo-Christian Studies

The Festivals of Hanukkah and Christmas

Hanukkah the "Feast of Lights"

Q: Every year as Christians celebrate Christmas, the Jewish community observes Hanukkah' - the Feast of Lights.' Is there any historic or symbolic connection between Hanukkah and Christmas?

EDB: Yes - both historic and symbolic. Herman Wouk, a contemporary Jewish author, in his book entitled "This is My God", says:

"The two festivals have one real point of contact. Had Antiochus succeeded in obliterating Jewry a century and a half before the birth of Jesus, there would have been no Christmas. The feast of the Nativity rests upon the victory of Hanukkah."

(1) Reason for Christian Interest

Q: Is there a Christian interest in the Festival of Hanukkah?

EDB: I have asked myself, Why are some Christians vitally interested in the Jewish Festival of Hanukkah? Perhaps the most obvious answer is that Jesus attended the Festival, as we may read in the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verses 22 and 23: "Then came the Feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the Temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade" (NIV)

The Feast of the Dedication' - Dedication' is the English translation of the Hebrew word Hanukkah'.

(2) Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah

Q: So Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. What kind of ritual took place in the Temple during Hanukkah in Jesus' time?

EDB: In Jesus' time there was an extra illumination of the Temple during the celebration of Hanukkah, the annual commemoration of the Dedication of the Altar' and of the Sanctuary', in 165 B.C. (some scholars give 164 B.C.). (I Maccabees 4:36-59; Alfred Edersheim. The Temple. Its Ministry and Services at the Time of Christ,' p. 334)

Beside the ancient Mosaic 7-branched Menorah, there were "great candelabras burning in the Women's Court". (Alfred Edersheim. "The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah", Vol. II, Book IV, chap. VI)
And in addition to that, the special Hanukkah lamp-stand was lit. It had eight branches and a leader-lamp called the Shammash' or Servant. The custom was then, as it still is, to light the Servant lamp first, and with it kindle the first lamp on the first night. Then, one additional lamp was lit each night, until on the eighth night all lamps were burning.

(3) The Temple Ritual

The Levitical musicians provided instrumental background to the Levitical choirs who chanted the Hallel' - Psalms 113 to 118. Some scholars say that Psalm 30 was included since it was A Song of the Dedication of the Temple'.

The worshippers responded to the choirs, and waved palm branches, as they had celebrated The Feast of Tabernacles' two months earlier. (II Maccabees 10:6-8)

On that occasion, Jesus spoke to the people who met Him in Solomon's Porch, a covered colonnade along the whole east side of the Temple. Jesus said: "I and the Father are one." (John chapter 10, verse 30).

Perhaps they also remembered His messianic claim about two months earlier, after the Feast of Tabernacles - Sukkot. At that great Festival the (extra) lights shining out of the Temple into the darkness around, and lighting up every court in Jerusalem' were greatly diminished when the extra lamps were removed after the Festival. Shadows seemed darker and deeper. Jesus spoke against that symbolic condition: "I am the Light of the world; he that follows Me, in no wise shall walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12 - from the Greek text)

This was another of His affirmations of messiahship.

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