Hanukkah and Christmas

December 22, 2023

Day by day

While much of the world is gearing up for the Christmas season –  last minute gift shopping, decorating the Christmas tree, preparing the holiday menu, etc., here in Israel we’re just trying to get by from day to day. Even in normal times, Christmas isn’t celebrated in this Jewish state – you don’t see Christmas lights on houses, hear Christmas songs on the radio or in stores, and December 25 is a normal work day for us. We only see Christmas trees in areas with Arab Christian populations or in Russian/Ukrainian shops. With no commercialization around this date, which isn’t cited in the Scriptures and is open to speculation, we’re thankful to be free to celebrate as we find meaningful.  

     This year, even during Hanukkah last week, our mood has been especially somber. As much as we try not to be overwhelmed by the news, we can’t help hearing and mourning every day for those soldiers who sacrificed their lives and continually praying the hostages will soon be released. We cry with Moses, “Return, O Lord! How long? And have compassion on Your servants.  Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!” (Psalm 90:13, 14). As usual, we still saw oversize menorahs (or hanukiot as they’re called in Israel) in public places and jelly doughnuts (soufganiot) in grocery stores but with everyone here knowing someone who was either killed, wounded, or captured, the festive mood was drastically diminished.

     Nevertheless, Hanukkah and Christmas give us wonderful messages for today, and we love seeing the connection between the two holidays. Hanukkah, commemorating the victory of a small group of Jewish zealots over the Greek overlords in 164 B.C., isn’t mentioned in the Tanach/Old Testament but in the New Testament. “It was now winter, and Jesus was in Jerusalem at the time of Hanukkah, the Festival of Dedication,” (John 10:22). As a Jewish man, He celebrated all the feasts with his disciples.

     One of the names of Hanukkah is the Feast of Lights, and this is reflected in the songs we sing about light overcoming darkness and the many small lights joining to become a large flame. We see the clear connection with Christmas when Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life,” (John 8:12). Jesus was born in Bethlehem to bring light to this dark world.

     To us it makes sense to observe Hanukkah and Christmas together, and we find that more than ever, remembering the themes of light in darkness, hope after despair, and victory from defeat inspire and comfort us during these challenging times.


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