Home People Traditions Hanukkah: The Jewish Festival of Lights (Compared with Christmas)

Hanukkah: The Jewish Festival of Lights (Compared with Christmas)

In 2019, Jewish communities across the world will be celebrating the festival of Hanukkah between December 22 and 30. The festival commemorates an important event in Jewish history that occurred in 165 B.C. when the community took back their destroyed temple from the Seleucid Empire and rebuilt what is today known as the Second Temple.

“During Hanukkah, on each of the eight nights, a candle is lit in a special menorah (candelabra) called a ‘hanukkiyah.’ There is a special ninth candle called the ‘shammash’ or servant candle which is used to light the other candles. The shammash is often in the center of the other candles and has a higher position,” according to Why Christmas. Though Hanukkah shares several similarities with Christmas, it also differs from the latter on many points.

Differences between Hanukkah and Christmas

Christmas has always been an important event to Christians since Christ was born. Hanukkah, on the other hand, has not always been a major holiday. It was rather a minor festival for most of history. It is only in modern times that the Jewish community started celebrating it in a grand manner. While Christmas lasts for one day, Hanukkah is a festival that is celebrated over a period of eight days. However, there are Christian sects that observe a 12-day Christmas celebration that is called “Twelvetide.”

During Hanukkah, visiting the synagogue is not that important. By contrast, going to church on Christmas and participating in the mass is an expectation in many Christian families. The dates for Hanukkah are different every year according to the modern calendar since the time is determined by the traditional Hebrew lunar calendar. However, Christmas is always observed on December 25 since the calendar currently in use is the solar calendar introduced by Pope Gregory XIII.

(Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)
During Hanukkah, visiting the synagogue is not that important. (Image via pixabay / CC0 1.0)

Hanukkah is largely only celebrated by the Jewish community. But Christmas, even though it is a Christian holiday, is celebrated by people and cultures all over the world since missionaries have spread the faith throughout the world. Jews celebrate Hanukkah by lighting candles. Christmas is celebrated not only by setting up lights and decorations, but also things like Christmas trees, Christmas stars, and so on. And Christians usually depict the nativity scene of the birth of Jesus during the festival.

Similarities between Hanukkah and Christmas

A common feature shared by Hanukkah and Christmas is that both are seen as festivals to be celebrated with family. As such, family members from all over will travel so they can spend a few days celebrating the festivals together. Giving gifts has been a long-standing Christmas tradition. Though such a tradition did not exist in the celebration of Hanukkah, most Jews today practice giving gifts to one another during this holy period.

Charity is another common theme that binds Hanukkah and Christmas. Both Jews and Christians consider it an ideal time to share what they have with less fortunate people in society. A big feast is also common in both festivals. While the traditional food during Christmas is turkey and pie, Jews prepare potato pancakes and jelly doughnuts.

(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)
Both Jews and Christians consider it an ideal time to share what they have with less fortunate people in society. (Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

Ideologically, both Hanukkah and Christmas share the theme of victory of faith over persecution. While Hanukkah celebrates the event of the Jews being able to win back their holy place, Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ who was persecuted for spreading his teachings.

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