Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas?
First, I want to commend an article that I wrote for the web site. If you haven’t seen it, may I encourage you to read “Resolving the December Dilemma”.
When you write about not not wanting to confuse “the kids,” I assume that you are referring to your daughter and son-in-law. Even if you are speaking of grandchildren, I think your question is a good one. You asked, “is it possible to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas together?” In fact, the two holidays can be celebrated concurrently, without diminishing the other. In addition, encouraging your in-laws to bring over the familiar elements of their celebration, would give you the reciprocal freedom to share the real meaning of Christmas in the Gospel story (something they may have never heard) with them.
Hanukkah is a celebration of the defeat of political and religious tyranny by Jewish freedom fighters in 165 BC. They threw off an oppressive Syrian Greek ruler who tried to force pagan religious practices upon the Jewish people in the land of Israel. The history is told in a non-canonical book, I Maccabees 9:36-41. The alleged miracle of Hanukkah (which means “dedication”) is not found in any ancient literature and does not originate until many centuries later. Meanwhile, Jewish people today remember the holiday as a time of God’s providential preservation of the Jewish nation. The Menorah, or Hanukkiyah (the 8 branched candelabra), is lit to memorialize God’s miraculous care for the people and his provision of light for the Temple in Jerusalem. The draydel is a four sided top with four letters on the sides. They are the first letters of the words: Ness Gadol Haya Sham (literally it says “A Great Miracle Happened There”). It is used to play a children’s game and to recall that God, indeed, is powerful enough to produce miracles. In this case, he saved a nation and encouraged people to trust in him. By the way, Hanukkah started tonight and runs through the 28th of December.
So, there are elements within Hanukkah that correspond with things that we believe about God as well. Preservation of the Jewish people is important to all that believe the Bible and trust in Jesus. After all, the Messiah was to come to the world through the Jewish people. We see that promise early on in Genesis 12:3, with a blessing promised to all the nations through the seed of Abraham. Simeon and Anna, Godly Jewish people in the days of Jesus, testify of that truth when the see the Messiah child brought into the Jerusalem Temple (Luke 2:25-38).
We also believe in a God of miracles. The conception and birth of Jesus (Y’shua in Hebrew meaning “savior”) is a miracle that was foretold in the book of Isaiah (see Isaiah 7:14 written in 740 BC). It is all recounted in Matthew 1:18-23. In this case, the miracle is not alleged, but is actual and testified by historical figures starting with the first century.
We also believe in a God who is creator of the heavens and the earth. He started the whole process of creation with the words “Let there be light.” The gift of light from God is at the core of the Gospel message. It speaks of a creation, designed by God, into which he illuminates truth. We see this in connection with Jesus as it is written by the apostle John in John 1:1-5, 9-14. Then in verse 17 of that passage John names the light, “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (lit. “Messiah Y’shua”)”.
Wouldn’t you love to be able to share those truths about the Messiah with your Jewish in-laws? Sure you would. And I do not see a contradiction between celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas concurrently. They aren’t mutually exclusive. Hanukkah observes events that allegedly took place more than 150 years before Jesus. It makes no messianic claims that would exclude or make it necessary to deny the coming of Jesus. By the way, there is only one place that Hanukkah is mentioned in the Bible. That is in the New Testament. It is found in John 10:22-33. John 1:22 speaks of the Feast of Dedication. That’s Hanukkah. Jesus took that occasion to tell the Jewish leadership that he is God. No wonder John was so impressed with his memory of the holiday as spent with Jesus in Jerusalem.
I hope this long explanation has been helpful. I send it with a prayer that it will lead to a sensitive and loving sharing of the Gospel with your in-laws.
Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.