Can you celebrate Hanukkah as a Christian?
Yes! As with all Jewish festivals and Jewish holidays, followers of Jesus Christ who celebrate Hanukkah experience God’s abundant blessing.
How? Super exciting question!
I’ve loved celebrating this as one of the Lord’s special festivals and hope you’re ready to explore and encounter:
- How celebrating Hannakah will inspire
- The connections between Jesus and Hanakkuh
- The difference in mindset between Hanakkuh and Christmas
Not only do we cover these topics, but you’ll also learn simple and delightful ways to celebrate Hanukkah and make this a wonderful new tradition for your family.
Let’s dive in.
Hanukkah is an account of God at work during a very perilous time
History of Hanukkah
During the reign of Alexander the Great from 336 to 323 BC, Jews were allowed to serve the one true living God according to His laws and commands.
However, due to the invasion of Greeks under Alexander’s reign, many Jews converted to Hellenistic culture, traditions, language, and dress. They wanted to ‘fit-in’ and not be different.
Several years after Alexander the Great had reigned over the land of Judah, Antiochus IV Epiphanes rose to power.
Antiochus IV was cruel and despised the Jews. He oppressed them severely and made their temple unholy. He placed a Hellenistic priest in the Jewish holy temple, which was a gross defilement, stench to God, and great breach of Mosaic law.
Even worse, he massacred many Jews, prohibited Jews from practicing their faith, and required pig sacrifices on the altar at the temple, an abhorrent act according to the Jewish faith.
Women who had their baby boys circumcised were thrown off the temple wall.
Some women were forced to walk around with their dead babies tied around their necks. Men were forced to walk naked into the Greek gymnasium built just outside the temple.
Sabbath worship was banned.
The atrocities and shame went on and on.
Under this severe persecution, the Jewish people were pushed and incentivized to walk away from their faith and many did.
Without a firm foundation of what one believes, it’s easy to walk away during troubling times.
This is why the accounts of Daniel and Esther are so important for our children to learn. Both were challenged to walk away from their faith during times of great challenge - yet didn’t.
Many believers throughout history have been challenged to reject God’s Word – the Torah – or be brutally harmed or killed. Even today this continues around the world.
Fighting For God's People
During this time in Jewish history (the reign of Antiochus IV), a rebellion formed out of a small group of Jews who rose to fight. Mattathias Maccabee and his son, Judah Maccabee led this group of Jewish fighters.
Despite Antiochus’s great army of tens of thousands, the Maccabees, with a rag tag group of farmers, drove all of the foreign armies from their land and reclaimed Jerusalem in December of 164 BC.
It took three years of battling to consistently trust God and stay in the fight to finally claim the victory for Yeshua.
What Does Hanukkah Have To Do With Jesus?
After this, the Maccabees purified the temple and dedicated it back to the one true living God on the 25th day of the month of Kislev. Today this date equates to December 25.
The date from the Jewish calendar won’t exactly correspond to December 25th on the true Gregorian calendar each year, but the significance doesn't change.
Yet, let’s be clear – Hanukkah isn't a Jewish Christmas.
Hanukkah doesn’t celebrate Jesus’ birth. It celebrates Yeshua (Jesus in Hebrew) redeeming His own and reclaiming the temple – according to the Jews: one day in the future.
Once the temple was reclaimed and purified, those faithful Jews searched the ruins of the temple and found only one day’s worth of oil that had the pure seal of the high priest, which was needed to relight the menorah lampstand.
That small jar of oil burned for eight days until more oil could be provided by the priest.
God supplied their needs in abundance!
We may have a hard time connecting with this story amidst severe persecution thousands of years ago, but the principles of God’s love, grace, and provision still bless us today.
And, our enemy is still the same.
The enemy divides and tries to conquer.
The Lord unifies and gives victory.
Whether a Christian is struggling with political upheaval, direct persecution, or personal trials, our enemy the devil desires to destroy and the Lord desires to give abundant life.
Something He’s more than capable of doing! AMEN!
Seeing God’s hand in such a miraculous, life-altering story such as that of the Maccabees can inspire and encourage each one of us, and our children, as we face the trials and temptations to not walk away from God.
Rehearsing powerful God stories helps us see Him at work in our lives today.
And to remember that our lives matter to Him just as much as the lives of the Jewish nation in years past and today.
How To Celebrate Hanukkah
Each year, the dates for Hanukkah change since the Jewish calendar is based on lunar cycles. It only takes a quick search to find the dates for the current year (for 2021, Hanukkah is November 28 - December 6).
As you get ready, make sure to mark your calendar, then:
DECIDE - Decide if you are going to do one evening or light candles for 8 nights. Since I’m not with people who do it for 8 nights, I celebrate just one night.
Make a festive meal, add the games, and read the verses in John 10 that talk about Jesus at the Festival of Dedication (another name for Hanukkah, discussed below). Or the entire chapter, as it’s so rich in the fullness of who we are in Christ.
This book is a wonderful resource for explaining biblical festivals to children.
Dreidel Game (use link to amazon – this traditional Jewish game is fun and not hard to learn.
Each person playing gets 10-15 pieces of your choosing (chocolate dollars, marbles, pennies, etc) and sits in a circle.
Going around the circle, each person puts one piece in the center “pot.”
Then players take turns spinning the dreidel. Each player either gets all the “pot” in the center, half of it, nothing, or puts more in.
When one person ends up with all the pieces, that person is the winner.
DECORATE - Use a Menorah or separate candles. The purpose is to celebrate God’s redemption yesterday and today. Create your own customs.
DEDICATE– Dedicate the night (or week) to the Lord. Yeshua is our deliverer. He is our temple. He is our focus. We are sealed in Him. And most importantly, we don’t compromise our beliefs.
Just as God delivered the Israelites, He delivers us.
That's cause to celebrate!
Additional Reasons Christians Should Celebrate Hanukkah
1. Hanukkah is a Biblical Festival
Hanukkah is also known as the Feast of Dedication or Festival of Lights. After the miraculous provision of the Lord when the Jewish people took back the Lord’s temple, God’s people set aside 8 days each year to remember.
These days were set because the Jewish people had not been able to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles for 8 days.
Since the Lord provided in the way of light, 9 candles on a menorah are the focus of the holiday. The center candle, called the Shammash, is used to light each of the other candles, one each day during the celebration.
As part of the celebration, God’s people offer a prayer and a song of thanksgiving.
While the story isn’t included in Scripture (it happened about 160 years before Jesus was born, while the last book in the Old Testament was written about 400 years before His birth), we see it mentioned in scripture and it is a traditional Jewish celebration that has remained to this day.
Here’s a scriptural example.
2. Jesus Celebrated Hanukkah
We see Jesus celebrate Hanukkah, the Feast of Dedication, in the book of John.
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon.
The Jews therefore gathered around Him and were saying to Him “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name bear witness of Me. But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them and they shall never perish and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.
“My father who has given them to me is greater than all and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:22-30
These are encouraging words today. The more we and our children understand that we are safe in the Father’s hand, the more we can step into the faith given to us through God’s Word and be strong in His name.
We are not to hide our faith.
We are to be a light to the world.
Because we are the Lord’s, we are not to fear.
What God has called us to do, He is present with us to complete.
Hanukkah in the New Testament
Jesus celebrated the Feast of Dedication because He was Jewish. We can celebrate it not as a Mosaic law, but as a reminder of...
- who Jesus is: our Shepherd
- who we are: His sheep and our eternal salvation
That is a blessed assurance. That’s grounds for shouting!
Let your children see you shout about the Lord's goodness.
Let them see excitement about all He came to do, all through your lives.
When Jesus said these words, He was talking about me. That tickles my spine! Do you feel it also?
3. The Maccabees took this time to rededicate the temple, cleansing and purifying it.
We are not facing the type of persecution and atrocities the Jewish people faced under the leaders like Antiochus IV, but we can see how the world’s ideology has crept in and is taking over in areas of faith.
Too many churches today are social clubs, don’t teach or hold to biblical truths, or elevate God’s authority above all.
For a long time, and more and more it seems, the holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, including Christmas, are focused on worldly ideas and material gifts.
This holiday season should be a celebration of who God is and what He has done!
Hanukkah gives us the perfect opportunity to connect with our Old Testament heritage and the people who longed for, looked for, and were in the line of Yeshua, who’s birth we celebrate on December 25.
Just like much of the world and false religious rituals had infiltrated the Jewish Temple in the day of the Maccabees, the same has occurred in our day.
Therefore, I think our Christmas season could use some cleansing.
The Heart of Celebration
Taking time to get back to the heart of God in human form humbling Himself to be born as a lowly, poor, helpless baby.
To take every ritual and tradition back from the world and turn each on into an opportunity to stand in awe of this most amazing miracle that launched the greatest story in history.
The story of the man who brought salvation to those in the world who would believe.
As we celebrate Hanukkah and prepare for the Christmas season (if you do so), let’s dedicate our hearts in pure devotion to the Lord.
Let’s evaluate what we’ve let slip into our celebrations, traditions, and even decorations that might move us away from our worship of the Lord.
Do they displease Him? Are our hearts tightly knit to the Lord and what pleases Him?
Remember, it’s not about how we look at the activities we participate in and rituals we continue. It’s about how God looks at them. He is a jealous God and wants all of us because He alone is worthy of all of our honor, glory, and praise.
If we celebrate Christmas because of Jesus' birth, then we don’t want to litter it with worldly idols and icons.
Celebrating Hanukkah provides a time of rededication and a chance to purify our hearts and homes.
There’s a saying that says, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”
I believe the same is true for those in the Christian faith, with a little tweak. We should never let an opportunity to see God at work go to waste. Our children need to know how God works, why He works, and learn to recognize when He works.
The more they understand the nature of God, the more they’ll see their faith in action.
The more they see the action of God, the more they will be ready to call on Him at a moment’s notice.
We want them to:
- Know God
- See God
- Call on God
- Expect God
The Lord commands us to diligently teach His ways to our children. To talk of them when we sit in our houses and when we walk by the way and when we lie down and when we rise up. This covers all times and opportunities.
Hanukkah is one of these wonderful opportunities!