Hanukkah Is Okay Too

I have written before on a challenging topic— “Christmas. It’s Okay… Really!”

It is a post I feel pretty good about. Some would say that it is not a very… controversial topiC. However, every year some Christians will put out arguments as to why Christmas is NOT okay. Curiously, the central problem they bring up is not the (actual evil of) consumerism or the mental health issues often associated with the holiday. Rather, their complaint is that it has “pagan roots.” Of course it does not have pagan roots. It is a birthday anniversary celebration for Jesus… something that seems to be implied as “un-bad” based on the birth narratives in the Gospels. Many, however, suggest that it is bad because it is tied to Saturnalia— a Roman pagan festival. It seems like making arguments about missional accommodation is a bit… niche at best. However, recently have come out a number of videos (like from Youtube’s “Religion for Breakfast”) that point out that the relationship between the day chosen for Christmas and the day for Saturnalia is not only not concurrent, but the fact that it shares a similar season is probably coincidental.

Personally, I would argue that it could share the same exact day and do so intentionally and that this would not be bad. In fact, I have argued that one of the truly great things about Christmas is that it is one day with two holidays. It is Religious Christmas for Christians. It is Secular Christmas for non-Christians. Because of this, Christians and non-Christians can share a day of celebration and the blurring of lines between the two CAN actually be a good thing— a time to talk about the historical base for Christianity with others and the hope that it provides.

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

Some also complain that Christmas has too many pagan symbols associated with it— Christmas trees being a good example. In the Philippines, parols are popular. They are paper lanterns (the least ornate are anyway) shaped to remind one of the Star of Bethlehem. I suppose it has roots in “Chinese lanterns” and so (perhaps) have some weak connection to non-Christian practices. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. Symbols and days are redeemable. If they weren’t, then this would be a problem. Pretty much everything we do or have has non-Christian associations.

OKAY>>> Finally we can get to Hanukkah

Is Hanukkah okay for Christians to celebrate? A lot of Christians seem to think of Hanukkah as being ‘bad’ because it is seen (somehow) as competition for Christmas. Certainly this year it is somewhat true. Hanukkah is a lunar holiday and so moves around a bit on the solar calendar, but this year it starts on December 18 (this year being 2022) and ending December 26.

Actually, I should note that I have some friends who go the opposite way from some Christians. They see Jewish holidays from the Bible as divinely sanctioned and all other celebrations as not. It can come from vairous arguments:

  1. If Christians are grafted into Israel, maybe we should act like Israelites. (Pretty weak argument.)
  2. Pretty much everything in the Old Testament is forever. If Yom Kippur is “Biblical” it is for all followers of God to do forever. (This is a slightly stronger argument at least.)
  3. Celebration is not necessarily a good thing so we are limited to forms of celebration that are overtly sanctioned by God.
  4. Negatively, the Campbellite argument that whatever the Bible does not explicitly command or allow should not be done by Christians.

So there are some Christians that may say that Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday, is okay while Christmas (never mentioned in the Bible) is not. For most Christians, however, the view is the other way around. Christmas is good, but Hanukkah is bad.

But Hanukkah is okay… really!! I would like to give a few reasons. All of them I believe are valid… but I don’t generally think one needs to justify celebrations, so I may not personally need any of them.

A. Hanukkah is part of our (Christian) heritage as well. Hanukkah comes to us through the Jews, being a celebration from the Maccabean period of their history. It is not in the Old Testament, but only because it comes from what is called the Intertestamental period. However, the basis for Hanukkah is from I Maccabbees chapter 4— a work that is part of the Roman Catholic Bible. Protestants reject the canonicity of I Maccabees. Still, Protestants should (hopefully) recognize the value of the Apocrypha even if they don’t see it as divinely inspired (in the same fashion as the Holy Bible at least). Regardless, although most Christians are not Jews, and we are not seen as part of the Jewish faith, the Jewish faith is part of our religious heritage.

B. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah. John 10:22-23 notes that Jesus was in Jerusalem at Solomon’s portico on the temple grounds. This is the Feast of Dedication mentioned there. Presumably Jesus was there as part of the celebration of Hanukkah. For those who believe that Christians need a Biblical justification for celebration, this seems like it should be adequate.

C. For those Christians (as well as other groups like JWs) who identify most everything they don’t like as being “pagan,” if there is a holiday that is not considered Christian that cannot be charged with “paganism” it is Hanukkah. It is commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It is pretty much the opposite of paganism.

<I should jump in here and note that in I Corinthians 10, there is a warning to Christians not to participate in Greek or Roman temple festivities since the sacrifices to these idols is sacrificing to demons. It is not clear to me how literal one is suppose to take this. Should one understand it to say that each idol literally has a demon associated with it and any temple ritual associated with that idol is essentially done to and for that demon? Many would say that this is EXACTLY what it is saying. The problem with this is that in many other parts of the Bible a very different perspective is found. In numerous places, the emphasis is on the idea that worshiping an idol is stupid because they are simply wood or stone and cannot see, hear, are respond. It is hard to reconcile those statements with the idea that idols have a demon directly associated with it who can indeed see, hear, and respond. In my mind, I believe it is more consistent with Scripture to say that demons are not directly associated with idols. Rather, the practice of idolatry is demonic… a violation of the Decalogue, and a choosing to worship the creation over the Creator. But even if one takes a more Peter Wagner sort of interpretation, it still has nothing to say to Hanukkah which has no idols, and is linked to a formal rejection of idols.>

D. Hanukkah can (and should) be a celebration to bring Christians and Jews together. I must admit, I have never been to a Hanukkah celebration. There simply are not many Jews in Baguio City, Philippines. However, I have known two or three in Baguio. One of them, Paul, invited me to the next Hanukkah celebration of his group. Their group (they actually call themselves “The Bagel Boys”) meets for major Jewish holidays bringing up a rabbi from the nearest synagogue (3 hours away). Sadly, he died that year so I never got the the exact time and place. That was too bad. I teach a course on Dialogue with Asian Religions. I hoped to bring at least a couple of students with me. I think it would have been a great blessing for everyone.

E. I think a strong argument could be made that when it comes to celebrations of other religions in one’s community, the question is not necessarily as simple as PARTICIPATE versus NOT PARTICIPATE. Perhaps the better question is HOW CAN I JOIN IN A WAY THAT IS GOD HONORING, CULTURALLY PARTICIPATING, AND BEING A BLESSING IN MY COMMUNITY EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR?

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