Both are celebrated the same time of year. Both are celebrated with many presents. Both are celebrated with an abundant amount of joy and good cheer. Both are celebrated with family get togethers, and large quantities of delicious, traditional foods.
So both holidays must be pretty much the same, part of the “Holiday Season”?
I don’t want to be known as the “Grinch that stole the Holiday Season”, but the truth is that the two holidays are very different.
Christmas is the day our Christian friends and neighbors, and indeed, Christians around the world, celebrate the birth of Jesus, essentially, the day their religion starts. I don’t pretend to be well-versed in Christian theology, but I imagine it is a very important day, probably the most important day on their religious calendar.
Chanukah, although an important and beloved holiday, is actually considered a “minor holiday” on the Jewish calendar. The events that we commemorate on Chanukah occurred in the year 165 (BCE). Israel, then a vassal state of the Greek Empire paid exorbitant taxes, but Jews were allowed to practice our religion without interference. Greece had hoped that Jews would be like much of the rest of the world and adopt Greek culture. Although a significant number of Jews were assimilating, the rate of assimilation was too slow for the Greeks. The Greeks implemented “Plan B”, they prohibited the practice of many key parts of Judaism, and they defiled the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.
Jews were willing to pay the high taxes, but they were not willing to give up their religious freedom and beliefs. Led by Judah Maccabee the Jews rebelled against the Greek Empire and eventually were able to reclaim the Temple. The Temple was defiled with idols, but one pure container of oil was found, and it miraculously lasted eight days. (Please see the companion articles and podcast for more details).
Are these two holidays similar? They are about as different as two holidays can be. It is rather ironic that the holiday that commemorates Jews resisting the dominant culture of that time is celebrated by imitating the dominant culture of our time.
Exchange holiday greetings with your friends and neighbors – but never forget, Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas!