For more than two thousand years, Jewish people around the world have celebrated Hanukkah. Did Jesus, who was called “King of the Jews,” celebrate Hanukkah? Before I answer that question, some historical background is necessary to gain a better understanding of why Jews celebrate what is also called the Festival of Lights.
In 167 B.C., a Greco-Syrian emperor named Antiochus IV persecuted the Jewish people. Like Germany’s Adolf Hitler, his ultimate goal was to wipe the Jews off the face of the earth, but he began by destroying their religious freedom. Antiochus made the practice of Judaism illegal, including Torah study, kosher dietary laws, and Sabbath observance. Obviously, this was not acceptable to the Jews. But violating Antiochus’s mean mandates meant certain death.
Antiochus was so vile that he sacrificed a pig in the Jewish temple and splattered the worship facility with its blood. The prophecy recorded in Daniel 8:21-23 describes his reign of terror, following the death of the “shaggy dog,” who was Alexander the Great, the king of Greece. Antiochus also deified himself by adding “Epiphanes” to his name, a foreshadowing of the Antichrist at the end of the age.
The pig in the temple deeply offended the Jews and brought them to their breaking point. Under the leadership of a warrior named Judah, nicknamed “the hammer” (“Maccabee” in Hebrew), a remnant of Jews rebelled against the emperor and, with Yahweh’s help, defeated his oppression. After three years of fighting the Syrians, the Maccabees recaptured the temple in 139 B.C. and cleansed it, removing all symbols of Greek religion. Then, the priest reentered the temple and lit the menorah, a lampstand with seven branches, with sacred oil, giving light to the holy worship facility. However, the priest had only enough oil for one night. Miraculously, the menorah stayed lit for eight nights, enough time to prepare more oil.
My friend, Dr. David Sedaca of Chosen People Ministries, describes the Hanukkah miracle this way: Imagine your cell phone has only ten percent of its power remaining, but it lasts for eight more days. Now you understand why Jews celebrate Hanukkah.
Now back to my question: Did Jesus celebrate Hannukah? The answer is yes. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah because, as a Jew, He observed all the Jewish festivals. Furthermore, John 10:22-23 says, “Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon's Colonnade.” The Feast of Dedication is not among the Lord’s “appointed festivals” mentioned in Leviticus 23. So, what is the Feast of Dedication? You guessed it. Hannukah. The word Hanukkah means “dedication.”
Today, when Jews celebrate Hanukkah, they light a hanukkiah not a menorah, which is only for the temple. While the menorah is a lampstand with seven branches, a hanukkiah is a candelabra with nine branches—eight branches for the eight days of Hanukkah plus an additional branch in the middle, called the “Shamash,” the “servant light,” from which the other candles are lit. Jesus declared, “I AM the light of the world!” and was Jehovah’s Servant. Christians can celebrate the Festival of Lights with a hanukkiah and think of Jesus as the Shamash.
Hanukkah is not the Jewish Christmas, even though the celebration happens during the same time of the year that Christians worldwide observe the birth of Jesus. But like Christmas, Hanukkah is a special time when faith-filled families gather and remember God’s miraculous provision. Hanukkah lasts for eight nights, but the date changes each year according to the Jewish lunar calendar. Also, like Christmas, food is central to the Festival of Lights.
Fried food is a big part of Hanukkah because oil is central to the story. For example, the is one tasty Hanukkah treat. Think of a jelly-filled donut, dusted with powdered sugar. Potato latkes, fried to a golden brown, and blintzes add delicious delicacies to the holiday menu. Families also play a traditional Hanukkah game called dreidel. The four-sided spinning tops each have four Hebrew letters.
Since Jesus celebrated Hanukkah, Christians should, too. Start by embracing Jesus, the Shamash, as the light of the world (John 8:12). Then, let your light shine before men (Matthew 5:13-14). Dedicate yourself to the Lord because, as believers in Jesus Christ, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19; Romans 12;1-2). More so, take a stand against antisemitism. Love Israel and God’s chosen people around the world.