Every winter, people around the globe celebrate two different holidays that are both based on miraculous religious events, Christmas and Hanukkah. Here is a quick look at the very different celebrations and how they started.

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. The word Hanukkah means dedication in Hebrew. In 139 BC, Judah Maccabee and his four brothers led a revolt against the Assyrian Greeks, who had taken over Jerusalem. The Maccabees won and regained possession of the Temple. It was required that the Temple’s holy light constantly burn inside the Temple. Unfortunately, the sacred light was no longer burning. The Maccabees went to light the ritual menorah lamp, but there was only enough oil to last one night. The miracle lasted eight nights, giving them enough time to make more oil. Every December, people around the globe celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, which are both based on two different miraculous religious events.

This year, Hanukkah starts at nightfall on December 18 and ends at sunset on December 26. In celebration of the miracle, observers will light the Shamash (middle or helper candle) on the first night and one candle on the far-right side of the Hanukkiah. Each night a candle is added, moving left to right while saying a blessing.

To celebrate the miracle of light, families will eat foods cooked with oil, such as doughnuts(sufganiyot) and potato pancakes (latkes). It is also customary to play with dreidels, small tops with a Hebrew letter on each side. It was a game created to help study the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, while also learning the Hebrew language.

Christmas is the annual Christian holiday celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25. The name Christmas comes from the Mass of Christ. The ‘Christ-Mass’ service was the only one that could take place after sunset and before sunrise the next day, so people had it at Midnight. Later Christ Mass was shortened to Christmas. The first recorded date of Christmas being celebrated was 336, during the time of Roman Emperor Constantine. Another prominent figure of the Christmas season is St. Nicholas (Santa Claus). He was the Bishop of Myra in modern-day Turkey. He was known to be an anonymous gift giver. He would often leave treats and coins in children’s shoes set out at night.  

St. Nicholas became Santa Claus in a story that appeared in a New York City newspaper in 1773. Twas the Night Before Christmas, introduced the reindeer, and Coca-Cola helped create the modern Santa Claus based on the American cartoonist Thomas Nast’s image that appeared in Harper’s Weekly. Christmas was declared a federal holiday in the United States on June 26, 1870. In 1890, Santa Claus made his first department store appearance. James Edgar had a Santa suit made and appeared as Santa a few weeks before Christmas at his dry goods store in Boston. By the turn of the century, the department store Santa was an institution.

For many people, the celebration of Christmas will always be a sacred holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus. Still, it is a cultural celebration for many others worldwide, a season of peace and gift-giving. 


Updated December 5, 2022

Published December 10, 2020

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About Cheryl Hammons CFE, CSA

Cheryl Hammons is an experienced home care professional, published author, and frequent speaker. She has held several roles throughout her 12 years in the home care industry, including training, support, and operations. She currently serves as Strategic Partnership Director at Veterans Care Coordination where she focuses on building value-driven relationships, developing revenue-generating programs, and creating educational materials for home care partner companies. Cheryl is the author of "Embracing a New Normal: Dealing with Grief" and "Respecting Religious Differences in Home Care."