We all have our favorite cozy traditions around the holidays. I know at my house, we are such Christmas fanatics, if we make it past Thanksgiving before pulling out the tunes and decorations, we are doing very well indeed. Beyond the eggnog and tinsel, there are rich traditions that can add spiritual depth to the season.
For many Christians, Advent is a beautiful way to engage spiritually with Jesus’ coming. Over the month of December, it is a dive into aspects of Jesus’ coming to earth and the fulfillment of over 300 Hebrew prophesies.
Christians are not alone in their pursuit of deeper spirituality around this time of year. December is when the Jewish high holiday of Hanukkah takes place, and it’s no coincidence. Upon deeper inspection Advent finds a surprising amount of connection with Jewish tradition. In honor of all our pursuit of a deeper holiday season, let’s take a closer look at the similar roots of these celebrations.
Over the days of Advent, it’s traditional to have an evergreen wreath with candles which will be lit weekly leading up to Christmas. The candle lighting is a remembrance of Christ, the light of the world when He came as a baby. John 1:5 says, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” Jesus is that light, and the lighting of candles during advent is a beautiful symbol of this.
There is a similar emphasis on “light” in the celebration of Hanukkah, which is the Jewish “Festival of Lights.” Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration commemorating the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean Revolt. Central to its traditions is the lighting of the Menorah. Each day over the festival, a candle is lit on one of the branches of the menorah to honor that history.
Another beautiful connection between these two holidays is an emphasis on remembrance while also looking forward with expectancy. During the four weeks of Advent, we look back at the fulfillment of God’s promise of a savior and the birth of Christ. The first two weeks focus on waiting expectantly for Jesus’ return, while the second two look back at His birth. We celebrate what God has done and the gift of His Son while still in the tension of waiting for the ultimate fulfillment of His purposes for us and the world at His return.
For the Jewish people celebrating Hannukah, they look back at the faithfulness of God in the rededication of the Temple, while looking forward in expectation for their Messiah’s coming. Throughout the Jewish festal traditions is the longing for their Messiah who will right wrongs and through them make the world whole. Both traditions express a deep desire for a deliverer while recognizing a faithful God.
“Hanukkah” means rededication, a word that carries significance for Jews and Christians around this time of year. Both faiths carry deep value for the sacredness of life and family. While Hanukkah and Advent are times of celebration, they are also times for reflection. Through meditation, simplicity, prayer and generosity, both faiths allow people to reconnect and “rededicate” themselves to their faith and to things outside of the consumerism of the holidays. Let us all take the opportunity this season, whether through the traditions of Hanukkah or Advent to do the same.