During Advent, it is easy to grow busy and caught up in the excitement of the Christmas season and celebration of Christ’s birth. In this day and age, though, there seems to emerge a great deal of “tip-toe” behavior. People in public often avoid explicitly saying “Merry Christmas” and opt for the more generic and “safe” greeting of “Happy Holidays.” This is not usually a problem in Christian churches. However, nothing says we cannot incorporate other traditions in our celebrations. After all, that is essentially what we do whenever we honor “pagan” practices like Christmas trees and Santa Claus. While we certainly want to focus our attention on the coming of the Savior and miraculous tale of His birth, there is also room to enhance cultural experience and add to seasonal fun by discussing and incorporating other practices.
One such positive holiday is Hanukkah. Most Christians tend to know very little about Hanukkah aside from its associations with dreidels, Menorahs, and latkes. If we take a look at its origins and details, though, this Jewish festivity can actually be considered quite important to the Christian faith, and hence to Christmas itself. Let’s not forget, after all, that Jesus was Himself raised in a Jewish family. In fact, he attended the Feast of Dedication which Hanukkah celebrates (John 10). We can learn about, teach about, and enjoy the Holiday in a perfectly Christian way. Here are a few suggestions to point you in the right starting direction…
Hanukkah (or Chanukah) celebrates two great miracles that occurred during the period between the Old and New Testaments. The Jewish people had been driven into repression and suppression under Greek role, but a tiny group called the Maccabees rose up and managed to overthrow the powerful Greeks with God’s help. Following this, the people sought to cleanse the temple (which had been defiled by Greeks) and restore it to God’s use. During this activity, a day’s worth of oil to light the candles lasted an entire week. Hanukkah celebrates this history with many traditions, such as lighting the candles of the Menorah, singing special songs, re-telling the story, gathering with family, exchanging gifts, and playing games.
Connections to Christianity and Applications:
- If the Temple had not been restored by the Maccabees, it might have changed Jewish hope for Messiah and identity as God’s chosen people.
- Jesus himself celebrated the temple’s cleansing at the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem.
- Christ came to call all to faith, including (and especially) Gentiles.
- The candles shining on the Menorah reflect and represent our Christian faith shining to tell others the Good News.
- The “Shammat” (servant) candle in the middle can remind us of Jesus and how He served and lights others.
- The message of Hanukkah is one of remembrance of the past and hope for the future. In the same way, Christmas bears a reflection on and gratitude for Christ’s birth, as well as anticipation for His future return and Second Advent.
- Hanukkah means “dedication” and reminds people to live in a manner dedicated to God. We remember to dedicate ourselves to Jesus and remember what He has done.
Possible Activities to incorporate in Hanukkah celebrations:
- Explain and act out the history of the holiday
- Light a Menorah (or at least candles) and explain how Jesus lights the world and we can too
- Play the dreidel game and win “gelt” coins (of chocolate)
- Discuss the Jewish calendar and its difference to ours
- Make goals and game plans to rededicate lives to Christ
Hanukkah is not a holiday to ignore as Christians, but to eagerly and actively embrace. We can discuss history, culture, Hebrew alphabet, and tradition all while incorporating into Christian principles and lifestyle. Here we have a wonderful opportunity to reflect on our past and look forward to the future, in more ways than one…and latkes are tasty to try!
Don’t miss our other ideas for Christmas and the Advent season: