5 Reasons Why This Non-Jew Celebrates Hanukkah Too!

hanukkahLast year was the first time I celebrated Hanukkah, and last Tuesday night we lit the menorah and ate latke potato pancakes to kick off the first evening of this eight-day festival (Dec. 16-23, 2014).

Why would a Christian girl observe a Jewish holiday? Good question! I really had no idea what Hanukkah was about except that during this time of year I knew that Christians celebrate Christmas, Jews celebrate Hanukkah, some African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa, and George Costanza’s family celebrates Festivus. Whatever–Happy Christmakwanzika!

Some unexpected bread crumbs fell in front of me last year in November that caused me to search for truth. Most people know that Jesus wasn’t actually born on December 25, and I was totally content with realizing that He was probably born at some other random date. But, something profound started happening in me when it became very obvious that God is not random. I started reading the Bible differently when I digested that His first language is Hebrew–which has a divine alphabet that is full of symbolism and rich correlations–and that He goes by His Hebrew calendar and not by our Gregorian calendar.

Very quickly, the Bible, ripe with references to God’s appointed feasts and customs, started making a lot more sense. The Old Testament is just the New Testament concealed and the New Testament is Old Testament revealed. Through it all is Jesus Messiah–the Jew–referred to, nodded at, prophesied about. Then, He comes to earth and steps in to the meaning behind the feasts and customs and says, “That’s Me!” From beginning to end, it’s all about God’s plan to save and deliver all of mankind.

Unfortunately, Christians have largely lost the understanding of the Jewishness of Jesus, and the Jewish people as a whole don’t see Jesus as the Messiah at all, therefore rejecting the New Testament writings that Christianity was founded on. You see the conundrum. Many clues go missing and dots unconnected because many Christians don’t know the roots of our faith.

Back to Hanukkah. Here are 5 reasons why I’ve added Hanukkah to my celebration calendar:

1. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Rabbi Jesus has been dropping clues as to who He is. He has just made reference to a prophecy in Ezekiel 34. In John 10:22-24, it says, “Then came the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah) at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.'” He went all in during Hanukkah.

2. Jesus was likely conceived during Hanukkah. The actual date of Jesus’ birth has a lot of varying speculation. But, there are convincing signals as to when it was. With Zechariah, Mary’s uncle, serving in the temple as a priest during the course of Abijah (Luke 1:5), which was at a certain known time, it indicates when John the Baptist was conceived. John was born six months earlier than Jesus was. If the number crunching is accurate, you have important births coinciding with God’s feasts: Jesus is conceived during Hanukkah, John is born during Passover, Jesus is born during the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). (Incidentally, Jesus dies during Passover, and the Church is born during Pentecost!)

If indeed the Light of World was sent to us on Hanukkah, and hidden in a humble virgin’s womb at the darkest season of the year, perhaps we can know He has a divine agenda and it most certainly includes using people who are willing to dedicate themselves to Him. This would have been the backdrop against which Mary would have had an angelic visitor on a night of celebration.

3. Light references have new clarity. Hanukkah, also known as “Feast of Dedication” and “Festival of Lights” was an extra-biblical Jewish celebration that commemorated the rededication of the the temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. after it had been desecrated by Greek-Syrian oppressors who put an idol to Zeus on the altar and sacrificed a pig on it. The Jews were threatened to blaspheme against their God or die, and a group of farmers and priests named Maccabees miraculously won the battle against soldiers to reclaim and sanctify their temple. They hadn’t been able to commemorate the eight-day Feast of Tabernacles, so Hanukkah basically made up for the postponed feast. This story can be found in the Apocryphal writings of 1 & 2 Maccabees, which Jesus and his followers would have been familiar with. Tradition says one-day oil supply miraculously burned for eight nights until a new supply could be made.

The lampstand (menorah) is what lights up the temple. In the middle of the lamp is a candle that sets higher, and is lit first to kindle the other candles. The Hebrew word for it is “shemash,” which means “servant.” Do these scriptures ring a bell?:

“For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ John 8:12

“Put your trust in the light while there is still time; then you will become children of the light.” John 12:36

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple?…” 1 Cor. 3:16

Jesus was always stepping into the types and shadows of feasts and customs to say, “…And that is Me. I am what that’s about.” For those who would believe in Him, the altar is a symbol of the heart burning with passion and purity for God. Ever heard of “dedicating” or “rededicating” your life to the Lord?

4. Picturing Jesus’ birth makes more sense now. If Jesus was conceived during Hanukkah, he arrived during the Feast of Tabernacles, or Sukkot–observed in the fall. The revelations start firing like popcorn once you know what Sukkot is. It’s one of three feasts during the year that observant Jews would travel to Jerusalem for. Also known as “The Festival of Our Joy” (*wink–cue angel: “I bring you good tidings of great joy…”), Sukkot is a seven-day feast where people make temporary booths, or shelters to stay in to remind them of what the Israelites stayed in as God provided for them in the wilderness. It’s kind of a big camping party. The men were required to stay in these shelters, while the women could stay in inns to sleep.

With the backdrop of Moses as deliverer, and Jesus coming as a deliverer–and their lives having dozens of similarities–Jesus being born in a “manger” holds more symbolism than just humble beginnings. The word “manger” or “stable” is actually “sukkah” (plural is sukkot) in Hebrew. “Sukkah” is a singular three-sided temporary dwelling place with plants and leaves woven together for the roof. Now, it doesn’t say in the Bible that there were animals there–that’s a more modern notion. Bethlehem was only five miles from Jerusalem, so the camping would have easily spread into the next town during Sukkot. The towns would have been booked. Oftentimes, the Roman government would conduct official tax and counting business around feast days because they knew Jews would be traveling to one spot, so the census could have been happening in that season as well.

Sukkot is a Jewish festival that is also a celebration for all nations! Interestingly, the angel announces to the shepherds “good tidings of great joy for ALL people.” How beautiful to picture that during this Feast of Tabernacles “the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us” (John 1:14). Our bodies, and His, are temporary, transient temples to host the presence of God on this earth. That’s Good News!

5. Hanukkah is a beautiful and meaningful family celebration. I’m not well versed in how to do Hanukkah to the letter, but I kind of pasted together a “Hanukkah for Gentile Dummies” plan to observe Hanukkah these last two seasons. The gifts are small and simple, and we give each other one per night. The lights are lit each evening before eating to a lovely blessing said to God. There are Bible readings, and we connect Jesus as being the Light of the World. We eat latkes and donuts–it’s all about the oil, y’all! We play a dreidel game. We might even dance and wave our hands in the air like we just don’t care to the tune of a little Matisyahu (my son’s favorite). It’s a rich time to understand things more deeply and savor the time with God and each other. It’s an extra layer of thankfulness that Jesus came–God with us, a breathtaking plan of salvation.

So, it might seem a little crazy for a Christian girl to light up the menorah, but if Adam Sandler will make room for me during these 8 crazy nights, I’m game. It’s kind of like discovering family roots you didn’t know you had. Happy Christmakwanzika, everyone! Shine on!

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7 thoughts on “5 Reasons Why This Non-Jew Celebrates Hanukkah Too!

  1. I am so thankful to have found this post. This was our family’s first year to celebrate Hanukkah, and I’m already so excited for next year! We have some friends who observe and remember all of the Feasts of the Lord, and they invited us to share in their Hanukkah festivities. Then, we carried on celebrating for the rest of the 7 nights. What a blessing!

  2. Jamie, I’m glad you liked it! I agree, learning to understand and celebrate the feasts is a great blessing. I keep trying to add them into the calendar the best I can. We celebrated Passover last year in a small way, though I would love to go to real seder. We acknowledged Rosh Hashanah. And we just keep learning. It’s wonderful to helping to understand the Bible better as well. May you be blessed in this new endeavor!
    .

  3. This was a great read! While over never celebrated and Jewish holidays, only Christian, I’ve recently been watching Chuck Missler on YouTube and learning about these deeper meanings and patterns underlying the feasts and Jesus’s life (and return). This post was a succinct and pointed explanation I found most informative, and have shared with my Facebook friends. Wish you the best, and may you be blessed!

    -B

  4. Unfortunately, there are a bunch of inaccurate things here. Yes, the Hebrew calendar is important for understanding the New Testament. But Hanukkah is such a minor holiday in the Hebrew calendar, that it is literally not even called a “holiday” (“hag”) in Hebrew. It’s only about as important a festival as Tu B’shvat, the Birthday of the Trees. In fact, the Festival of Dedication is not one of God’s three feasts at all; God’s feasts are Pesach (Passover, which is the spiritual ancestor of the Christain Easter), Sukkot (Festival of Tabernacles), and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks, which is the spiritual ancestor of the Christain Pentacost).

    The emphasis on the Miracle of Light is also a comparatively modern graft by the rabbis of around the year 500. Traditionally, Hanukkah was celebrated as a military festival, commemorating the Maccabees’s military victory. Although you’re completely right that the length of Hanukkah was based around recreating Sukkot once the Temple could be rededicated, you’ll note that the Miracle of Light is a very minor mention in one of the books of Maccabees, and is actually completely absent from the other. In fact, references to the Miracle of Light did not become common until during the compilation of the Talmud, when the Jewish people were once again living under religiously oppressive rule. Many of the details of the Miracle of Light (and almost all of the customs people now associate with Hanukkah, except for the ones that were even later grafts to compete with Christmas) were invented whole-cloth by the rabbis of the time, who feared that celebrating a military festival about violently overthrowing an oppressive reign would look too much like active revolution to their current oppressors, and provoke them to attack. They recognized that they didn’t have the resources to fight this time (although the Maccabees were outnumbered, they were actually incredibly organized and well-trained), but they still wanted to ensure that the Maccabees were remembered, and so they changed the holiday to be focused on an (almost) invented miracle, while simultaneously teaching the story of the Maccabee’s military resistance under that cover. It was actually pretty amazing and devious stuff for the time, and many would argue it’s a big part of the reason Hanukkah is still practiced at all, instead of being violently snuffed out by any of the many, many oppressors the Jewish people have faced over the years.

    The manger/sukkah parallel you draw here is interesting, but I’d definitely want to see your source and translation. The typical Hebrew word used to refer to mangers is “evos”, not “sukkah”; I can’t recall any specific biblical passages where the word “sukkah” was used specifically to refer to a manger. This could be a case of bad Greek translation, or of bad Latin translation, but at least in Latin (from where we derive the term “Tabernacle”), the terms “booth” (taberna) and “manger” (praesaepe) are not at all interchangeable. In Luke (the only Gospel to actually recount the nativity scene), the relevant quote is “Et peperit filium suum primogenitum, et pannis eum involvit, et reclinavit eum in præsepio: quia non erat eis locus in diversorio”. That’s praesape, not taberna. Therefore, I think it highly unlikely that the nativity scene took place in a booth for sukkot, although again, I’d love to be proven wrong if there’s something I’ve overlooked here.

    *Wheew*

    Ok, that was a lot. And, I’m super sorry to be the one to rain on your parade; I am in no way trying to be negative here. Quite the opposite, actually! Far too few people today really take the time to connect to their religious texts, and with texts as rich with meaning and symbolism as these, that is really an incredible shame. Hanukkah might not be the best fit for looking to get in touch with the roots of the Christain calendar, but there’s really lots more there in other holidays. Keep on questioning and learning and analyzing; that hunger for religious meaning is, in my opinion, the single greatest source for spiritual connection that there is. In the proper Hebrew expression, kol hacavod!

  5. I love your daily faith and Josiah’s thought benders. Indeed the feasts are the foundation and core of Christianity. I recently viewed Jonathan Cahn’s ‘Mishkan Clue’ as to the date of JESUS birth. He also has a DVD called the Hannukah Endtime Mystery. Both of these can be purchased on the WND site. I agree with Jonathan’s research on the birthdate of Christ – – and I think you might also after hearing his thoughts. Note also that Nisan is also noted for ‘the counting of a King’s reign’. The Lord bless you.

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