Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas

One annoyance of being Jewish this time of year: Many Christians and secular people in English-speaking cultures treat Hanukkah as the Jewish way of celebrating Christmas. It’s not. They’re completely different holidays. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. That is not something Jews celebrate, because Jesus is not part of Judaism. Jewish people often come under a lot of pressure to celebrate Christmas, which can be very uncomfortable and invasive.

Christmas is a Christian holiday. Some people celebrate it without any particular religious intentions, but it’s still part of Christian culture. When religious Christians say “remember the reason for the season”, very few people in English-speaking countries are confused about what they mean.

Hanukkah is not Christmas. Hanukkah is Jewish, and it is not part of Christian culture at all. It happens to coincide with Christmas, but it is not actually very similar to Christmas at all. There is some overlap in customs for celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas, especially in English speaking countries. That’s largely because winter lends itself to certain kinds of things, and because cultures influence each other. Despite some external similarities, Hanukkah and Christmas are very different holidays.

Christmas is a major holiday for Christians, with tremendous religious significance for religious Christians. Even for secular/cultural Christians, Christmas has tremendous weight. People from Christian cultures almost all prefer not to work on Christmas, and it is a traditional time for major family gatherings. 

Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday for Jews in religious terms. It’s not mentioned in the Bible, and it doesn’t celebrate something with the kind of weight that Christmas has. Hanukkah is very important to many Jews for cultural reasons, but it’s not like Christmas either culturally or religiously. Almost all Jews who live in outside of Israel work on Hanukkah. Jewish children who attend secular schools have no need to miss school in order to observe Hanukkah. The Jewish holidays with that kind of weight happen at different times of the year.

The Jewish holidays that have the deepest religious weight for most Jews are Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur, (in the fall) and Passover (in the spring). There are several other Jewish holidays, with a full range of meanings and practices. (None of which are at all similar to the meaning of Christmas; none of which have anything at all to do with Jesus or Christianity.)

Hanukkah also isn’t exactly at the same time as Christmas every year. Hanukkah is eight days long. Sometimes Christmas falls on one of those days; sometimes it doesn’t. (More information on how to find out when Jewish holidays are here.)

tl;dr Hanukkah is not Jewish Christmas. It’s a fundamentally different holiday. The most important Jewish holidays happen at different times of year. Jesus is not part of the Jewish religion, and it’s important to respect the boundaries of Jews at Christmastime.

Updated to add: If you want to know more about what Hanukkah *is* about, I wrote a post about that too.