Over the years, I’ve been asked many times, “Pastor Mike, what should Christians do about Hanukkah? It’s not in the Bible, so I’m not sure how I should think about it.” This is a short overview of what Hanukkah is and how Christians can think about and interact with Hanukkah.
Hanukkah is a Jewish holiday to commemorate God’s miraculous provision for Israel as they rededicated the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BCE. The menorah in the Temple was running out of oil and only had one day’s oil left, but remained burning for eight days while more oil was on the way. The Jewish website Chabad has a really helpful and informative writeup about Hanukkah (or the Jewish rendering, Chanukah) you can read here.
Hanukkah in the Bible
You may be surprised to learn that Jesus celebrated Hanukkah and it’s mentioned in the Bible. At that time, Hanukkah was called “the Feast of Dedication” because it commemorated the dedication of the Temple.
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said 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 about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will 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.”
The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
It was during Hanukkah that Jesus engaged in conversation about his Messianic identity. While Israel was remembering their heritage of faithful worship in the Temple, Jesus was identifying himself as the Good Shepherd of Israel. He identifies himself as the fulfillment of the prophecy against faithless shepherds in Ezekiel 34:2 and as the Messiah who would shepherd God’s people with faithfulness. Jesus is the living Temple who was rejected during Hanukkah and the people picked up stones to stone him for blasphemy. The timing of this conversation about faithful worship and God’s provision of the Messiah is significant.
Christians and Hanukkah
There is no biblical mandate for Christians to celebrate Hanukkah. We see Jesus going to the Temple to commemorate Hanukkah (the Feast of Dedication), and since Jesus celebrated the feast then we should not reject it as “unbiblical.” This is especially true for Messianic Christians (Jewish men and women who believe Jesus is the promised Messiah).
In my view, Hanukkah is a general celebration of God’s provision for Israel rather than a “biblical” holiday that God mandated in order to teach something about the Messiah who would come. It can be helpful for Christian parents to help their children understand what Hanukkah means, and use it as a reminder for how God provides for his people (and that his care and provision takes place even outside of the pages of Scripture). There is certainly no reason for Christians to be skeptical of Hanukkah or to feel like it competes against Christmas for any reason other than their proximity in the calendar to one another.
So to answer the question, “Should Christians celebrate Hanukkah?” I suppose my answer would be fairly open. Those who are not Jewish are free to appreciate God’s provision for Israel without actually celebrating Hanukkah; while those who are Messianic Christians are certainly free to celebrate according to Jewish tradition.