Throughout December, a lot is going on given that 9 out of 10 Americans are busy preparing for Christmas. Then there are those who celebrate Kwanzaa and Hanukkah too, or separately, around this month. This leads some to wonder, did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah? Jesus celebrated Christmas, right?
It might surprise some to learn that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, but not Christmas. Christmas didn’t come about until the 9th Century. One could say that Jesus celebrated Christmas in the sense of acknowledging his birthday, though birthday celebrations in Jesus’ time were much different than today.
Stick around and l hope to share some things I’ve learned about Jesus, his family, and their observance of different feasts and holidays, including Christmas and Hanukkah.
Did Jesus Celebrate Hanukkah?
Jesus was Jewish and grew up in the traditional 1st century Judean Hebrew household. He was circumcised on the eighth day as the Law required (Luke 2), and in John 2, He celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles.
He also worshipped at the second Temple and was deemed an established rabbi and teacher of the Law, even by Nicodemus, a ruling Pharisee in John chapter 3. Besides, He celebrated Passover as the Last Supper (Luke 22) and directed His disciples to remain in Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost) in Acts 1.
Jesus and his family were very observant of Jewish holidays and feasts as noted in multiple parts of New Testament books (and letters). Hence, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. According to the Book of John, Jesus ensured that he was in Jerusalem during this festival, also known as the Feast of Dedication.
Books like this one at Amazon titled, Meeting Jesus at the Feast: Israel’s Festivals and the Gospel, are dedicated to detailing just how embedded feasts and festivals were in the life of Jesus. As practicing Jews, Mary and Joseph would have followed all customs of the day, and of course, taught them to their son, also the Son of God!
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What Is Hanukkah?
Hanukkah isn’t one of the major feasts in the Torah (Books of Moses), and there’s no evidence of it in the Prophets’ writings. Instead, it’s the one Jewish festival that originated in the period between the Bible’s two Testaments.
Hanukkah or Chanukah, which typically means dedication in Hebrew, is an eight-day Jewish celebration that recognizes the rededication of the Jerusalem second Temple during the second century BC and hence its name, the ‘feast of dedication.’
According to the legend, Jews revolted against Greek-Syrian oppressors, known as the Maccabean revolt. Thus, it commemorates the brave Maccabees who recaptured the Temple from Antiochus Epiphanius, who had seized it.
The eternal, undying Temple Menorah flame, the magnificent seven-branched candelabra so fundamental to the worship in Israel, had been extinguished.
One of the most popular menorahs on Amazon is this silver-plated one.
Antiochus had desecrated virtually all the sacred oil for the menorah. Only a tiny container with a one-day supply remained. It’d take eight days for the priests to consecrate more oil, but they lit the menorah anyway.
Ancient documentations show that the eight-day rededication requirement appeared impossible. That’s due to the one-day supply of oil for the Temple Menorah. However, Jewish tradition indicates that God miraculously allowed the one-day oil to last eight days, so the priests could complete the dedication.
Thus, Jews, including the Holy Family, have been celebrating this event to thank God.
So Jesus, Joseph, And Mary Celebrated Christmas Each Year?
Since Christmas and Hanukkah fall around the same time, it’s often believed Jesus was celebrating Christmas during the feast of dedication. However, the two festivals have nothing to do with each other. In fact, early Christians didn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth. This was not the custom of the time.
Indeed, those who celebrated birthdays ‘in Bible times’ were usually the very very rich, or ungodly, which often times were ‘one and the same.’ Examples would be pharaohs, emperors, and kings.
Even so, some scholars believe that Jesus was born during the eight-day Hanukkah celebration. Since Jesus is seen celebrating the holiday at the Temple, it’s thought that it’s a tradition that his family (mother and father) instilled in him from an early age. Thus, Joseph and Mary also celebrated Hanukkah.
Jesus And the Festival of Lights (Hanukkah)
Today, Hanukkah is celebrated as the Festival of Lights through the menorah lighting, games, gifts, and traditional foods. The classic story has it that the light of the first Hanukkah shone amid the darkness. In that sense, the light of Hanukkah foreshadowed the Light of the Messiah prophetically.
It also depicts the words of John about Jesus, that the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. According to the four Gospels, the light of Jesus also came during a time of darkness and foreign oppression as Rome governed Israel. The country could hardly bear the oppressive yoke.
Moreover, the Festival of Lights serves as a reminder of the True Light, Jesus Christ. He came and became the light of the world amid a culture that loves darkness and shuns the light.
Is Celebrating Christmas Biblical?
Some might wonder if celebrating Christmas is biblical? Do all Christians have to celebrate Christmas or is it better for Christians not to celebrate the holiday?
Celebrating Christmas is biblical in some ways, but not in others. It’s biblical in that the Catholic Church mandates the observance of Christmas as a Christmas Mass obligation in honor of Jesus. Yet, in the sense that Christmas is not mentioned in the Bible, one could say it’s not biblical.
What arguments are against Christmas being biblical?
- Some argue Christmas is not biblical because Jesus didn’t celebrate it.
- Others argue Christmas is not biblical because early church fathers didn’t celebrate it.
- It’s argued Christmas isn’t biblical because it’s not in the Bible.
- Christmas is too commercial and not about Jesus today.
Reasons to think Christmas is biblical–
- If you’re a Christian, then Christmas is a day set aside to honor Jesus, the reason for Christmas, so why would you not honor it?
- Jesus and the Holy Family honored feast days and participated in celebrations.
- Christmas is more about love and family, than commercialism.
- It’s required of the Catholic faith.
Why Is Jesus’ Celebration of Hanukkah Symbolic?
Jesus celebrating the Festival of Lights indicates the supernatural presence of God expressed through the eternal flames burning for the Maccabees. Jesus became the physical, incarnate expression of God’s presence, the light of the world, giving humanity the eternal light of God’s life.
When Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and other feasts and festivals, He demonstrated the importance of these kinds of days of celebration and remembrance in our lives. Essentially, if the Son of God set aside routine to celebrate, then it’s important enough for the rest of us to do so, too.
What Is the Difference Between Christmas and Hanukkah Holidays?
Both Christmas and Hanukkah are observed widely as gift-giving holidays falling in December. However, they are distinct. For instance, Christmas is one the most significant Christian observances of the year which celebrates the birth of Jesus. In contrast, Hanukkah is a Jewish observance commemorating the Maccabean revolt and oil lasting 8 days.
Christmas is always observed on December 25 annually of the solar calendar. However, the date of Hanukkah varies as it falls from the 25th of Kislev, a Hebrew month determined by the lunar calendar. As such, it can occur on a different date on the solar calendar each year.
Besides, Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration, while Christmas is observed technically for only a day, though many Catholics acknowledge a 12 day of Christmas observance, in addition to the 22-28 days of Advent prior to Christmas.
Christmas celebrations entail going to Christmas Mass, enjoying hearty dinners, and gift-giving, along with some cultural customs of Santa Claus and Christmas trees, while Hanukkah is celebrated by gift-giving, lighting candles, and eating fried foods.
Why Is Christmas Celebrated on December 25?
The origin of Christmas and its December date lies in the ancient Greco-Roman world. For instance, the Roman Christian historian Sextus Africanus dates the conception of Jesus to March 25, which would result in a December 25 birth after nine months.
Moreover, the church in Rome started celebrating Christmas formally on December 25 in 336 AD, during the reign of the emperor, Constantine. Constantine made Christianity the influential religion of the empire. However, some speculate that choosing the date had the political motive to weaken the established celebrations. Regardless, today Catholics are mandated to observe Christmas on December 25th.
Wrapping Up Jesus Celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah
To wrap it up, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Lights or Festival of Lights. There are many mentions of Jewish festivals being observed during the days Jesus walked the earth and due to his family following ‘the law’, Jesus would have kept the tradition.
As for Christmas, Jesus didn’t celebrate Christmas, especially as we know it today. Christmas was established hundreds of years after the birth of Jesus. As well, since Christmas is meant to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, he wouldn’t have done that either as it wasn’t customary of the time.
This doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate Jesus’ birthday! In fact, we include a special birthday cake for Jesus at our table every December 25th!
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