Hanukkah, also known as the Feast of Dedication or the Festival of Lights, is a holiday commemorating the rededication of the second Temple. It is a celebration of faith and commitment to God's Word. But lately some believers have been questioning Hanukkah's origins and arguing that disciples of Yeshua shouldn't celebrate this holiday. Are their concerns valid?
Let me start out by saying that I’ve listened to several of the teachings from those who think we shouldn’t celebrate Hanukkah, and I’ve prayerfully considered their point of view. After all, we’re commanded in the Bible to “test all things” and “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If Hanukkah were against the Bible in some way, I certainly would have had no problem letting it go like I’ve done with Christmas and Easter. However, what I’ve found is that the arguments coming from the “anti-Hanukkah” crowd simply don’t hold up to Scripture and logic.
Hanukkah commemorates the story in Israel’s history of a small group of Jewish believers who, by God’s strength, successfully defeated the forces of evil in their time. They took back the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from pagan idol worshipers and rededicated it for Biblical worship. In addition, for us as disciples of Yeshua, Hanukkah is a picture of the Gospel message. We remember that the Messiah Himself took back our personal “temples” from the enemy and rededicated us to God.
The reason some believers are throwing out Hanukkah is that it is not a commanded Feast Day in the Torah (first five books of Moses). Indeed, the Jewish people established Hanukkah to commemorate an event that happened long after the Torah was written. So their concern is that Hanukkah is a “tradition of man” and celebrating it would therefore be “adding to the Torah,” which is something the Torah itself prohibits (e.g. Deuteronomy 4:2). They go further to state that the Hanukkah celebration is actually rooted in paganism.
Is Hanukkah really no better than Christmas? Are believers who embrace Hanukkah just trading one pagan holiday for another?
I’m convinced that celebrating Hanukkah is absolutely beneficial for disciples of Yeshua. However, I understand the concern, and it is important to establish whether celebrating Hanukkah is even permissible. So for the rest of this article I will talk about three main points surrounding the question, Is it wrong to celebrate Hanukkah?
Is Hanukkah "adding to the Torah"?
The claim that celebrating Hanukkah is “adding to the Torah” might be a valid point if believers were saying that it is a sin to not celebrate Hanukkah. But that simply is not the case. I’ve never heard anyone say that believers were commanded to celebrate this holiday. And generally speaking, the Jewish people today even consider Hanukkah to be a minor feast day. Nobody is trying to “add” Hanukkah to the list of commanded festivals in Leviticus 23.
I submit that the sin of adding to the Torah occurs only when a religious leader (or anyone for that matter) elevates manmade laws or traditions to the same status as God’s Law. Or when people reject or replace the commandments of God in order to observe traditions (see Mark 7:9). A good example of this is how Christianity in general has essentially replaced God’s Holy Days (Leviticus 23) with Christmas and Easter as the Christian Church gradually drifted away from its Biblical roots. But when it comes to Hanukkah, nobody does this. In fact, if you still decide that you don’t want to celebrate Hanukkah after reading this article, I’m completely fine with that.
The bottom line here is that it is good to worship God in all things with every breath at all times during the day. If we take the premise “we can praise the Father only through the commanded Feasts” to its logical conclusion, there is little reason to get out of bed until a Feast Day. Indeed, the Father accepts all our praise—as long as it is not prohibited in scripture. Otherwise, if I decided that on August 1 every year that I am going to fast, pray, and praise the Father, He will not accept it because it is not a commanded Feast in the Torah. That is obviously ridiculous, but that’s what happens when we compartmentalize things to this degree—the obvious becomes lost.
Does Hanukkah have pagan origins?
Some anti-Hanukkah people claim that Hanukkah has pagan origins. I’ve heard all the supposed connections to paganism, and I’m being generous when I say that the claims are quite a stretch. There is no evidence that Hanukkah is rooted in paganism. Moreover, that wouldn’t make any sense. Hanukkah declares the believer’s victory over paganism. How can a holiday that commemorates cleansing the Holy Temple from pagan idol worship be rooted in paganism? Why would the same believers who fought against paganism turn around and create a pagan holiday?
What Would Yeshua Do?
Interestingly enough, the only reference to Hanukkah in the Bible is found in the New Testament:
At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. (John 10:22-23)
Based on His actions in John 2:13-17, you could certainly say that Yeshua was serious about the Temple and its proper use. Remember when He turned over the tables of the moneychangers and chased people out with a whip? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that if Hanukkah were truly the abomination that some claim it to be that Yeshua would have reacted similarly in John 10? That moment would have been the perfect time for Yeshua to raise His concerns about Hanukkah. Yet there is no mention anywhere in this passage of Yeshua being upset about the celebration. You could even make the case (as many scholars have) that He was there for the celebration. In either case, it seems clear that Yeshua did not condemn Hanukkah.
In conclusion, the commanded Feast Days in the Torah are appointed times that are certainly non-negotiable. However, if we want to create traditions that revolve around biblical events for the sole purpose of glorifying the Father’s name, I don’t see how He would have a problem with that (as long as those traditions aren’t prohibited by Scripture in some way). Ironically, it would actually be “adding to the Torah” to condemn believers who celebrate Hanukkah. Scriptures do not prohibit celebrating Hanukkah. Therefore, people who adamantly declare that believers must not celebrate Hanukkah are making that judgment based on nothing more than their own opinions … thereby adding to the Torah.