The Story of Hanukkah—A Small Light will Always Banish Great Darkness 

When dear friends of mine asked me recently: “What is the difference between Hanukkah and Christmas? Is Hanukkah an Israeli version of Christmas?” — I felt it was very important to clarify what Hanukkah actually is, its deep significance to the Jewish people and why Jesus Himself celebrated it. 

Hanukkah and Christmas are celebrated close together each year, and while they are both considered festivals of light, because both celebrate light coming to overcome darkness, Hanukkah has a message behind it that pertains greatly to our days. 

First Hanukkah took place about 300 years before the birth of Christ, when the Greeks conquered the land of Israel and ruled over it. 

In the beginning they seemed acceptable of the Jewish faith and traditions, as long as people of Israel honored the Greek way of life and thinking. 

However, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes came to power as the new emperor, things changed for the worse for Jews in the land of Israel. 

Antiochus was infamous for his stance against the Bible, God of Israel and freedom of worship for Jewish people on their own Land that was occupied by the Greek empire. 

He decreed that every Jew now had to worship Zeus and other Greek idols. His way of ensuring Jews were no longer able to worship God in the Temple in Jerusalem was desecrating the Temple by offering the sacrifice of a pig on an altar to Zeus. 

It was such an offense and an abomination that the nation of Israel could not tolerate it, and among the Jews arose a group of families, rebel warriors who stood against this abomination and desecrating everything that was holy. 

They were called the Maccabees. 

The rebellious riot of the Maccabees turned into an all-out war against the oppression of the Greek empire, and they were able to conquer back Jerusalem, and liberate the Temple that was completely desecrated.  

In order to be able to go back to worshipping God in the Temple the way He had commanded in the Bible to their forefathers, the people of Israel had to rededicate it. 

That very Dedication of the Temple is what Hanukkah stands for: God’s liberation of the Jewish people from opression and victory of light over darkness. 

That is why Hanukkah is also called Festival of Lights and Festival of Dedication. 

In Israel a housewarming party is called “Hanukkat Ba’it” meaning house dedication. When you enter into your new home and you dedicate it. Placing a mezuza on a doorpost is a way of dedicating it and also marking that house as a place of God’s protection and where He is King. 

Although Christmas comes right after Hanukkah, they don’t really have anything to do with one another. 

However, nothing is random with God. Hanukkah was the preparation and dedication of the Temple for the return of worship of God, and 300+ years later, Jesus would enter into that very same Temple; teaching, preaching, praying for the sick, worshipping His Father and celebrating all the biblical festivals, including Hanukkah. (John 10:22-23) 

Hanukkah is a celebration of victory of light over darkness, of standing up for the truth even when you’re outnumbered and outgunned, like the Maccabees — a small group of people who believed in God and refused the back away, fighting for the truth and their nation, obtaining a remarkable, unexpected and miraculous victory over a much bigger and stronger enemy. 

The Maccabees were armed with only one thing: their faith. They knew the righteousness of their cause, and they were willing to give their lives by standing up to what was dishonoring God in their own land. 

Today we are faced with a similar reality, when we have to choose to be Maccabees, the fierce warriors who are fighting for their nation and their right to worship God on their land. 

Hanukkah is about the resilience of the Jewish people fighting for their God, while He honored them by fighting back for them, giving them the victory that echoes thousands of years later, as we light Hanukkah candles for the next seven days and remember that LIGHT will always banish darkness.