Hanukkah, also called the “Festival of Lights” or “Feast of Dedication,” is an eight-day celebration of a Jewish festival that begins at Kislev 25 in the Jewish calendar or late November. Most of the time, however, it is celebrated in December in the modern calendar.
Hanukkah is about the rededication of the reclaimed Temple in Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt against Antiochus IV and the Seleucids. At some point, we may have wondered, “Did Jesus celebrate Hanukkah?”
During Jesus’ time, Jews celebrated with friends and family by singing psalms, going to the Temple for worship, and thanking God for freedom from Israel’s oppressors. Nowadays, like Christmas, most people celebrate Hanukkah by gathering with their loved ones and exchanging gifts. Other traditions include indulging in latkes (potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts), playing dreidel, and, lighting the candles of Menorah.
Did Jesus Celebrate Hanukkah?
Yes, Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. Christians celebrate Christmas, but nowhere in the Bible was it mentioned that Jesus Christ observed or celebrated this holiday or His birthday. However, we can find one account about Him participating in one holiday during wintertime.
As told in John 10:22–24, at that time the Feast of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area, in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then surrounded Him and began saying to Him, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Hanukkah is not one of the major feasts given to Moses for the Jewish people to observe in Leviticus 23. However, in the New Testament, Apostle John wrote that Jesus walked on Solomon’s porch during one winter holiday, which was Hanukkah. Even in the rededicated Temple, Jesus honored and observed it.
What Is Hanukkah?
The Hebrew word Hanukkah means “dedication,” hence John referred to it as the “Feast of Dedication.” The Bible has several accounts of God performing miracles, but we can only read about Hanukkah in the Books of Maccabees, which isn’t part of the Torah or Bible. The Hanukkah story shows God acting on behalf of His followers—the Jewish people at that time—and demonstrating the miracle of His unfailing love and mercy.
Similar to Christmas lights, which symbolize Jesus as the light of the world, the symbolic candles of the Hanukkah Menorah signify how God sustained the light in the Temple for eight nights until more oil was supplied. The lighting of the first Hanukkah candle in total darkness suggested that light will come to overcome darkness.
The modern Menorah includes nine candlesticks, four on each side, with one typically set higher than the other eight candles. The middle candle is the “shamash,” meaning “servant” in English, and is used to light all the other candles until the eighth night. That said, many Messianic Jews perceive the “servant” candle as the Jewish Messiah—the light of the world.
The History Of Hanukkah Before Jesus
The historical background leading to the celebration of Hanukkah took place during the intertestamental period, comprising the “400 Silent Years” between the end of the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and before the New Testament. Hence, it is only recorded in the Books of Maccabees and not in the Jewish or the Hebrew Bible. The story of the one-day supply of oil was later described in the Talmud, written between 200–500 AD.
During the reign of King Antiochus IV, the Greek Hellenistic ruler of the Seleucid Empire invaded Judea in 168 BC. He forced the Jews to fully conform to the Greek culture and worship the Greek gods. He forbade any Jewish practices, and anyone who disobeyed would be sentenced to death. Antiochus also desecrated the Temple by erecting a statue of Zeus and sacrificing a pig, defiling the altars, utensils, and golden Menorah.
Mattathias, or Mattityahu, an old priest in the village of Modiin, fled to the hills of Judea along with his five sons and other loyal Jews after resisting to heed the demands of Antiochus’ men. Judah became the leader when his father died in 166 BC.
They called him Judah Maccabee, which comes from the first letters of their Hebrew motto “Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem” (Who is like You, O Yahweh?). Thus, it was called the Maccabean Revolt, and his army, the Maccabees.
The Maccabees were vastly outnumbered, but with the miracle of God, they were able to reclaim the Temple and eventually won the war. They started the cleansing and rededication of the Temple and found the golden Menorah along with a jar of holy oil that could only last a day. While they did not have enough oil, they nevertheless lit up the candles, and the oil miraculously lasted for eight nights.
Why Did Jesus Celebrate Hanukkah?
Jesus or Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah because He lived a Jewish life. He was raised in a Jewish household by Jewish parents. Apart from this, He observed the Law of the Jews and their feasts and had Jewish disciples. These are more than enough reasons why Jesus celebrated Hanukkah.
It is also during this festival that Jesus revealed to the Jewish people that He is the Messiah and God (John 10:25–30). They were looking for a Savior and deliverance from their struggles, but Christ spoke to them about the promise of eternal life and how He will not let anyone or anything snatch His followers from the Father’s hand.
A New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary, Craig S. Keener, wrote on a HuffPost blog: “Jesus offers a bridge between what has historically evolved into two separate faiths, and an opportunity for deeper reconciliation and mutual appreciation. The Gospels offer countless examples affirming Jesus’ Jewish identity. The tradition about Jesus observing Hanukkah is merely one of these, but it is one that invites our attention at this season.”
Do Christians Need To Celebrate Hanukkah?
The short answer is “no.” Judaism and Christianity are two separate faiths and have different beliefs and traditions. While in the Christian Bible, Jesus observed it, God did not command the people to honor and celebrate it.
This being said, while Christians are not required to celebrate Hanukkah, you are still free to do so if you wish to participate in the festivities. This feast celebrates the rededication of the Temple to God and the miracles for God’s chosen people, so there’s no harm in celebrating Hanukkah even if you’re a Christian.
As we are the temple of the Holy Spirit received from God (1 Corinthians 6:19), we can view the “Feast of Dedication” as another way of honoring and dedicating ourselves to Him. One way to worship the Almighty is to glorify Him by being His loyal servant here on Earth and serving others as Jesus did.
The Maccabees’ complete faith in the Lord displayed true devotion to God even when He seemed silent. Remembering the story behind Hanukkah is a meaningful way to honor this wonderful holiday. After all, this festival relates to how our Father in Heaven can provide light in our darkest times, and how the Son of God is the light of the world.
No amount of darkness can put out the light of God’s burning love for His people. As stated in John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” Whether it is celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah, may we always remember that we celebrate these holidays to worship, honor, and glorify God.