Maybe Christmas is the Christian Hanukkah

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Hanukkah, the quiet, little holiday that survives a noisier, bigger winter festival, begins with the lighting of the first candle against the darkness this Saturday night—which is also Christmas Eve.

 Year after year, the assessments begin and the questions accumulate: Is Hanukkah the Jewish Christmas?  Which one came first and how are they related?  (Of course, the real inquiry every December should be: can the spiritual poetry of either of these festivals be saved as against the maddening mercantile macramé of this annual run to the solar finish line?)

 In other words: no Hanukkah, no Christmas.

Here are some simple facts:  In ancient Judea, in 168 BCE, a revolt broke against the Greek-Hellenist colonialists who had imposed their rites and rituals upon the indigenous Jewish population for a long time.   Synagogues had been shut down and desecrated not only with statues of Zeus, but with pig-idols.  Hebrew studies, the Jewish calendar, festivals, and dietary laws were generally prohibited.                                       

Remember that this was still some 160 years before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.  Jewish life in Judea was being stifled and repressed in favor of Hellenism and its gymnasiums, free-flying philosophies, global intellectualism, art and liberalism.  Greek mythology, with its temperamental gods and undeniably powerful literary appeal, drew some intellectual Jews in—along with the other, rather carnal, aspects of Hellenistic civilization.

So the armed revolt, led by the famous Maccabees, a popular guerilla army that went up against Greek-Syrian regulars and their elephants, armor, and spears, was not strictly a Jewish-Greek conflict.  The truth was that some Jews favored the socially outlandish Hellenistic lifestyle and there were outbreaks of civil war as well.  In the end, the Maccabees and the anti-Hellenists prevailed, culminating with the restoration of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem back to Jewish purity and liturgy.

This was first time in history that an indigenous people fought for and won its own religious freedom.

The festival was sealed with the legendary oil that lasted for eight days in the tabernacle candelabra, allowing the Maccabees to work day and night to refurbish the Temple—thus the eight nights of Hanukkah.  Effectively, the Jewish religion and the Jewish people, on the cusp of extinction again, survived and were renewed.

Sixteen decades later in Judea, a beacon Jewish baby would be born in Bethlehem.  Had the Maccabees not saved Judaism however, what would have become of that baby’s family and whence the future story?

In other words: no Hanukkah, no Christmas.

Order my new book, ‘I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE: Making Spiritual Peace With Your Religion’

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Author: Ben Kamin

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