Christmas is not the only popular observance falling in December. The Feast of Dedication, or Hanukkah, is an eight-day nationalistic observance of the Jews that begins on the 25th of Kislev (December). It celebrates the rededication of Solomon’s temple that had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes, king of Syria, in 165 BCE. Tradition says the observance was instituted by Judah Maccabee and his followers.
Hanukkah and its main features are found in the apocryphal books of first and second Maccabees. The eight days were celebrated with gladness like the Feast of Tabernacles. It is even referred to as Tabernacles (2Maccabees 1:9) or Tabernacles and Fire (1:18) (Encyclopaedia Judaica, Hanukkah. p. 1283).
The Judaica surmises that Tabernacles was not celebrated at the proper time because the Temple had not been cleansed, and therefore “a second Tabernacles (analogous to the Second Passover) was held.”
Unlike Yahweh’s appointed Feast days, Hanukkah with its Christmas-like customs was a work in progress. Its rites evolved over time. The 25th date corresponds to the third anniversary of the proclamation of the edict of Antiochus to offer idolatrous sacrifices on the Temple altar. The date and month trace to the ancient day of sun worship at the winter solstice, and to the related feasts of the Greek god Dionysius.
Historical sources differ in the details of Hanukkah. Various traditions (baraita) in the Jewish oral law, which were not incorporated in the Mishnah, provide differing legends. The most prominent tradition details the rededication of the Temple when a single cruse of oil, enough to light the Temple candelabrum for a day, miraculously provided light for eight days – thus making Hanukkah an eight-day celebration called “Lights.” The historian and priest Josephus, who made no mention of Hanukkah, paired the name Lights with the fire that descended from heaven to the altar not only in the time of Moses, Nehemiah, and Solomon’s Temple, but also in the days of Judah Maccabee (1:18-36: 2:8-12, 14) (Judaica, p. 1283).
As with most extrabiblical observances, the Talmudic tradition of Hanukkah comes with a checkered past. The Judaica notes, “Certain critics conjectured that the origin of Hanukkah was either a festival of the Hellenized Jews or even an idolatrous festival that had occurred on the 25th of Kislev. Antiochus had, therefore, chosen the day to commence the idolatrous worship in the Temple” (ibid).
The parallels with the Christmas celebration are obvious. The Hanukkah bush smacks of the Christmas tree, the greeting cards, gift exchanging, bulbs and lights strung at this time also are clearly a replication of Christmas customs.
Some contend that Yahshua was keeping Hanukkah in John 10:22. The passage says it was during the feast of the dedication when Yahshua is seen walking on Solomon’s porch at the Temple. It does not say He went into the Temple and was sitting in on a Hanukkah service. He typically went wherever crowds gathered. He discussed Scripture with some Jews there who then wanted to stone Him.
Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of a temple that no longer exists. Being that Hanukkah is a man-made tradition with problematic customs and no biblical affirmation, should we not instead focus energy on Feasts that are repeatedly commanded by Yahweh, kept by Yahshua and the apostles, and will be part of the constitutional law governing the Kingdom coming to earth? Man’s traditions don’t set the course for the True Worshiper. Yahweh’s commands do.
Yahweh’s seven annual Feasts are part of the covenant He makes with believers today. These are the observances that have biblical authority. The true worshiper must make them a part of his life now.