COMMENT POSTED TO AN ARTICLE BY RACHEL SHABI IN THE INDEPENDENT
While modern festivities of the two holidays have many similarities, there are really fundamental differences in the origins and meanings of Christmas and Hanukkah.
Hanukkah marks a revolt by conservative Hebrew leaders against Hellenistic culture as reflected by the Seleucids who ruled them, one of the several fragment empires created after Alexander the Great.
At the time, Hellenistic culture was generally considered the most advanced and enlightened around. The culture of the Old Testament, at least those parts emphasized by conservative Jews such as the laws of Leviticus, were pretty much the opposite.
So, one level, while a celebration of freedom, on another, the event being celebrated was actually something of a step backward, not towards enlightenment.
Christmas celebrates birth and, more specifically, the birth of the coming of a new way of looking at things which puts away the old laws of the New Testament.
Early Christian thought reflects indeed some of the very Hellenistic culture rejected in the revolt of the Maccabees. Some of the sayings attributed to Jesus – eg, the Golden Rule – were already formulated by Hellenistic thinkers.
The early Christians were of course themselves Jews, but they were part of the ferment of the times against tradition-bound Judaism and the formation of groups and cults we see evidence of later in the Dead Sea Scrolls.
There were a number of such movements who rejected this or that aspect of traditional Judaism, and not just the followers of Jesus.
So, while the family suppers of today and lights and gifts are related practices, the origins and original meanings of the two holidays are almost diametrically opposed.