What is Hanukkah?

For many of us, Christmas can be so confusing that we don’t even bother to try and figure out what’s going on during the celebration of Hanukkah. Perhaps many of us just view it as a way for Jews to celebrate Christmas without celebrating Christmas. However, Hanukkah had its roots firmly planted long before Christmas came on the scene and actually many years before the birth of Jesus.

The Feast of Dedication

The origins of this particular holiday can be traced all the way back to around 200 years before the birth of Jesus. At that time, a ruthless king known as Antiochus IV Epiphanes began to heavily persecute the Jewish people and desecrated their Temple in Jerusalem. He banned circumcision, erected an altar to Zeus in the Temple, and sacrificed pigs on their altars. Such defilement of the Jewish people and their Temple initiated a revolt that was led by five brothers and their rebel army known as the Maccabees. Despite the enormous odds that were stacked against this rebel army, the Maccabean revolt was a miraculous success, and the Jewish Temple was regained and once again in the hands of the Jewish people.

Because of the desecration that had taken place under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, it was ordered that the Temple be thoroughly cleansed and rededicated to God. This rededication of the Temple took place on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev and would eventually become the date known as the Feast of Dedication which was celebrated each winter around this time we know as Christmas.

The Festival of Lights

So what’s with that well known candelabrum and all the candles during the Hanukkah celebration? Well according to tradition, when the Jews rededicated the Temple on the 25th day of Kislev they lit the eternal flame of God within the Temple (Leviticus 6:13) but only had enough oil to keep that flame burning for one day. It would be another eight days before more oil would be available which created quite the dilemma. This particular flame was a sacred symbol of God’s presence in the Temple so it would be a fairly big deal to light this flame and then have it go out after just one day.

However, as the tradition tells us, God miraculously kept that flame burning for those eight days without the oil that was needed which confirmed His presence once again dwelling within the Jerusalem Temple. An eight-day festival would later be established to commemorate this miracle, and the menorah became the official symbol used to celebrate the recollection of this event.

So what should Christians do about Hanukkah?

Christians ought to not feel any obligation to celebrate this Jewish holiday, but there is also no reason to object to such a celebration that honors our God of so many miracles. It would be arrogant and ignorant of us to ignore the fact that our faith has its roots dug deep in Jewish history. Some of us might even be surprised to realize that Jesus Himself honored such a celebration (John 10:22-23). So share some of the spotlight this holiday season and recognize the beauty in a festival that celebrates God’s provision of light preceding a holiday that celebrates God’s provision of the Light of the world. And whether its Kislev 25th or December 25th, our miraculous God who powerfully provides in so many ways ought to be celebrated and glorified for who He is and what He’s done.