Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas - but there are Links

Posted by RabbiCohen on Dec. 12, 2020  /   0

Happy Hanukkah! And Shabbat Shalom.  I hope that you had a wonderful first two nights of the holiday. 

Like many American Jews, I have heard many, many times how Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas.”   This is very true.   Hanukkah is a minor holiday, celebrating a military victory that became moot 200 years later because of the Roman invasion.   Christmas celebrates a seminal, founding event for Christianity.   Christmas, in terms of fundamental importance, is much more akin Passover or Rosh Hashana. 

But, then again, Hanukkah and Christmas are both old-world, Near-Eastern traditions.  And, while Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” they do have some interesting similarities.  Since I am thinking in 8’s this week, here are 8 tidbits of information – one to liven up, or at least add a new dimension, to each night of your Hanukkah celebration.
  1. Pure, ritual olive oil is a central symbol of Hanukkah.  The word “Christ” means “anointed.”  In the ancient world, there was a complex ritual for anointing a new priest or king.  Part of the process involved pouring ritual olive oil on their head – like the oil used in the Hanukkah menorah.
  2. The Hebrew date for Hanukkah is the 25 of Kislev.   Early church leaders would have certainly known this, when they placed Christmas on December 25 in 336.   Both holidays, of course, are close to the winter solstice while Christmas’ dating has connections to Roman mythology as well.
  3. The actual Hanukkah story happened in 164 BCE – so a little under 200 years before Jesus. Hannukah would have been part of Jesus’ world.    It would have had almost a July 4th meaning in those days.  John 10:22-23 records Jesus celebrating Hanukkah: “It was the feast of the Dedication at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.”(Note: the word Hanukkah means “Dedication.”)
  4. Ironically, the Book of Maccabees is not included in the Hebrew bible but is included in the Christian Bible.  The story of the Maccabees was too militaristic for the first rabbis, who only mention Hanukkah very briefly in the Talmud.   For the same reason, they replaced the military victory with the miracle of the oil as the central theme of Hanukkah.
  5. Both Hanukkah and Christmas, like other tradition’s winter festivals, emphasize light.  Other winter festivals emphasizing light include Kwanzaa and Diwali.
  6. While certainly not a “Christmas Tree,” symbologists says that the Menorah is fashioned after a tree.  The description in the Bible makes the connection to a tree very clear.  So, our central symbol of Hanukkah is a tree with lights!  Sound familiar?
  7. Both Hanukkah and Christmas are built around the theme of political resistance.  In Hanukkah, a rag-tag band of Maccabees fights against the Syrian-Greek superpower of the day.   In Christmas, Jesus – with his own ragtag background – offers resistance to the Roman authorities.
  8.  Most importantly (at least for the young and young at heart): foods, family, gifts and celebration are central to both holidays.
Happy Hannukah!   May your celebration be sweet.

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