A tale of two holidays


Two holidays. celebrated by two religions.
Hanukkah, according to the Talmud, celebrates the restoration of the Second Temple of Jerusalem, where a day’s worth of oil burned for eight.
Christmas, according to the Bible, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, in a manger in a Bethlehem stable from a family escaping the tyranny of King Herod.
So much has been said over the years about how different these two holidays are, contrasting the differences between Jews and Christians. But yet, Hanukkah and Christmas — and the observances and celebrations surrounding them — are more alike than we give them credit for.
First and foremost, both are rooted in the same concept: the celebration of a miracle. Following three years of war with King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a hero of the Jewish faith, Judas Maccabeus, re-entered the desecrated Second Temple with the hope of restoring it. The Seleucid king had defiled almost everything inside except for a single small jar of oil — enough to last a single day.
It was going to take a week for new oil to arrive, but Maccabeus used the oil in the jar anyway. It didn’t run out that night. Or the next night. Or the night after that. In fact, the oil continued to burn until the new consecrated oil arrived, helping to restore the temple — and the faith of a war-torn people.
The birth of Jesus should not have happened. According to Christians, the messiah’s mother was a virgin. Thus the conception and the ultimate birth of Jesus took place through divine intervention.
The three wise men who traveled to welcome the new baby into the world were inspired by the light of what we now call the Star of Bethlehem. Today, Christians celebrate light with candles and colorful bulbs, reflecting hope, warmth and the triumph of light over darkness.
Sound familiar?
While Hanukkah might not carry the same spiritual weight for Jews as Christmas does for Christians, both holidays also focus on something very important: family. Dads, moms, daughters, sons, grandparents, cousins — they all gather around the tree on Christmas morning to open presents and share a sumptuous holiday meal.
For Hanukkah, the lighting of the menorah candles involves the entire family, fostering a sense of togetherness.
And we can never forget about kindness and charity. Giving gifts and food to those who wouldn’t otherwise have them, and simply gathering to do good things, are aspects of the holidays that are not exclusive to any single religion, but the effort is heightened at this time of year.
Whether you’re spinning a dreidel or hanging stockings on the chimney, this is a chance to not only end the year doing good for both your family and your community, but also looking to continue that once January begins.
Take a moment to remember not only the meaning of the holidays, but the spirit of them, too. And focus on finding common ground — all for the greater good.