As a child, I was always envious of my next-door neighbor who got to celebrate Christmas. Being Jewish, I had my own holiday, Hanukkah, but the gentile holiday seemed so much bigger, so much better. I did not consider the meaning of either day, only the outward trappings, and my festivity did not measure up.
To console me, my parents stressed that our celebration lasted eight days, while my gentile friend had only one day. We lit candles and got presents every night and they only got presents once. Yet, this did not satisfy me. My family was poor, and our presents consisted of inexpensive things like crayons and coloring books. We did get one bigger present on the last day of Hanukkah, when the relatives got together for a party. But for me, the other seven presents hardly counted.
On the other hand, my neighbor lived in a transformed house for what seemed like an entire month. She had tinsel and holly decorations and an absolutely indescribable tree decorated with glowing balls and glittering ornaments. She hung a stocking by her fireplace on Christmas Eve, and what she found in it the following morning made my paltry Hanukkah collection fade into insignificance.
When I grew up and left home, I determined to celebrate Christmas. I had always wanted a Christmas tree, and now I bathed in the luxury of decorating it. I did this not according to any tradition, because my Jewish upbringing had provided none. I merely acted according to the dictates of my then-hippie heart. Christmas became a joy, allowing me to express my artistic yearnings and fulfill my childhood fantasies. In fact, I loved it so much that I rarely took the tree down before Valentine’s Day!
As Christmas grew in my esteem, Hanukkah faded in importance. Yet neither holiday had spiritual significance for me. In my mid-twenties, however, a transformation took place in my life. I read the Bible, and its truth took hold of my heart. I saw the Messianic promise in the Jewish Scriptures and its fulfillment in Yeshua (Jesus). I accepted this Jewish Messiah into my life, and everything, including my appreciation of these celebrations, was transformed.
No more was Christmas merely an opportunity to decorate my house with aesthetic abandon. No longer meaningless works of art, the adornments now formed an expression of my love for my redeemer, whose birth this day celebrates. Without his presence, my Christmas tree could just as easily have been called a “Hanukkah bush ” or even a “winter solstice plant. ”
And what about Hanukkah? Is it still a faded flower to me beside the vibrant green and the sparkle of the Christmas decor? Hardly, because I think Yeshua loved Hanukkah.
After all, he stood in the Temple and declared, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life ” (John 8:12). It was the same Temple the Maccabees had cleansed from pagan desecration nearly two centuries earlier and whose dedication with oil was the basis for the Hanukkah miracle.
Hanukkah has taken on renewed, enlarged meaning for me. I derive joy from decorating my home for Christmas, but I derive even greater joy in celebrating Hanukkah, remembering what God has done for my people in ages past.
So I celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, and over the years this special time has provided an opportunity for my gentile husband to join with me as we raise our children to be both Jewish and followers of Jesus. We have explained to them the meaning of both holidays, and they can savor the spiritual as well as the cultural aspects of both. When they are asked by their friends how they can still be Jewish if they follow Yeshua, they have no trouble explaining their heritage and beliefs.
We now have a grandson, and it is a joy to pass on to a third generation the wonder and awe of both Christmas and Hanukkah.
Is there a contest in my heart between these two holidays? No longer. Together they have been transformed into a physical expression of the love my Messiah has for me and for all mankind. It is a transformation worth celebrating!