Susanna Kokkonen
Speaker on Jewish-Christian relations; anti-Semitism; the Holocaust and persecution

Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas

The time around end of November and all of December is one of the best – and it is so each year. First comes Hanukkah, then inevitably Christmas. In New York for instance it seemed every public place was full of Hanukkah and Christmas decorations. It was almost like an unexpressed wish that these two very different holidays would somehow be one. I love both but they are distinct and different. Forcing them to be one and same would take away their separate identities. So, discarding the ease with which you can do so in Israel,  why would I, as a Christian, celebrate both?

Many Christians, and I dare say, most Jews do not know that whilst Hanukkah is not a Biblical Jewish holiday, it is in fact a holiday Jesus celebrated. Whilst not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible it is recounted in the New Testament. The Gospel of John explains specifically that “…the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was walking in the temple…” So Jesus celebrated Hanukkah in the very place where the miracle of oil had taken place. For me personally, it is extremely moving to think about this because in my mind Hanukkah is most connected with anointing. This surely would have had a huge significance in Jesus’ context. It is amazing to think that we -Christians of today- celebrate Christmas so close to the holiday of Hanukkah, which Jesus celebrated. In today’s Christian world where there is a huge return to the Jewish roots of our faith understanding Hanukkah is one way of accomplishing the mission.

Hanukkah is so much about fighting for our values in an age of darkness. Who could not notice the darkness around us? The question is if we can find it in ourselves to rise up and stand up for our values? The Maccabees knew their values but so much of today’s world has no idea.  Yes, even at the church. So this is a starting point…Both holidays do show that even the tiniest light conquers a much larger darkness. But the tiny light will have to come from somewhere and be brought by someone. The Maccabees fought for a decade or so without giving up. It is an example to follow because we cannot give up even when it looks like a battle has been lost. Here in the Middle East so many church bells have forever gone silent and this too is an issue for a battle. Battle to be done by the church that is so far unaffected by persecution.

As we are entering the new (civil) year of 2019, I wish everyone much light and success in bringing it worth.

May there be a blessing!

About the Author
Dr. Susanna Kokkonen, originally from Finland, has lived in Israel for the past twenty years. She has a doctorate in Holocaust Studies and has pioneered Jewish-Christian relations including at Yad Vashem, as the Director of the Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. She travels around the world speaking about Israel; the Holocaust, anti-Semitism and current issues.
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