Monday, November 30, 2020by Reverend Dan on November 30, 2020
"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is givven; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal God, Prince of Peace.”
I’m often asked if Jews celebrate Christmas, or if Hanukkah is the “Jewish Christmas?” I recently spoke with a Rabbi friend and here’s what I found out.
During the Christian holy season of Christmas, some Jews have adopted various practices and celebrations of Yuletide, but do not recognize the religious aspect of the holiday. Some reject the symbols and rituals of Christmas and its Christian religious meaning altogether. And still others have found ways to somewhat “meld” Christmas and Hanukkah.
The real change for the Jewish people came in America in the 1870’s. That was when the Christian Christmas began to become commercialized. Jews in America would hold celebrations on December 24th that combined the symbols of both Christmas and Hanukkah (even if Hanukkah didn’t fall on the 24th). Tress would be decorated, wreaths and stockings hung, and gifts exchanged. Even the Jewish “Festival of the Lights” celebrations began to use greenery around the menorah. (Menorah is the Hebrew word for “lamp”, and it is a nine-branched candelabra modeled after the seven-branched candelabra used in the ancient temple in Jerusalem.)
During the 1950’s, the second-generation immigrant Reform Jews in America began to observe many of the cultural (but not religious) Christmas practices in an effort to assimilate into and be accepted by American culture. By the 1990’s, however, many American Jews no longer decorated Christmas trees, but Hanukkah, which was once a “minor” holiday in the Jewish tradition, took on a much larger and significant meaning and is now perceived as the “Jewish alternative” for Christmas. In a sense, it was the American Jews who elevated Hanukkah to the status it holds in this country today.
The biggest practice of the Jewish faith during this season is “mitzvot” – doing charitable deeds for others. Christians do things “in the spirit of Christmas”, Jews do them “in the spirit of mitzvot”. In this way, the Jews retain their Jewish identity amidst the Christmas consciousness, and are not marginalized during the season.
So, the short answers are: Do Jews celebrate Christmas? They celebrate the spirit of the season. Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas? No, it is a parallel holiday that is celebrated for different reasons. It simply happens to fall very close to the Christian celebration of Christmas. The longer answers lie in the fact that by celebrating during this season, American Jews can proudly affirm their identity both as Americans and as Jews, maintaining both their religious and cultural heritage in a culture that is of another dominant faith.
"Father, Thank you for our Jewish brothers and sisters, and the heritage of faith we share. In Jesus' name, AMEN."
All of the following Christmas songs were written by people of the Jewish faith who do not celebrate the Christian holy day of Christmas.
- Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer
- Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
- Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas
- White Christmas
- Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow
- Winter Wonderland