Do Jews Celebrate Christmas?

By Alice Bassett
Kelli Harris
Edited by Kelli Harris

Published November 30, 2021.

Cookies for Hanukkah celebration with menorah and Christmas decor on wooden background

For Christians, the 25th of December is the day to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ (better known as Christmas). For Jews, the 25th of December usually marks the start of the 8-day festival that is known as Hanukkah. The dates do change slightly because Hanukkah is celebrated according to the Hebrew calendar on the 25th of Kislev. This does not always fall on the same day in the Gregorian calendar.

Since the holidays are not synonymous, and nor do they necessarily fall on the same days, what, if anything, does Christmas time mean for the Jews?

What Holiday Do Jewish People Celebrate?

Jewish people do not celebrate Christmas for many reasons. The most pressing is that Jews do not see Jesus as the Messiah. They believe that there are prophecies that he has not fulfilled, which means that he cannot be the one who was prophesized. While Christians believe that Jesus will fulfill his prophecies in the second coming, this is not a belief shared by Jews.

Jews celebrate Hanukkah, which has festivities lasting for 8 days. Hanukkah celebrates the victory that the Maccabees, a group of Jewish rebel warriors, had over Judea. Antiochus Epiphanes IV was the Syrian ruler who had control over Israel at the time. He decimated the Temple in Jerusalem and made studying the Torah (the divine revelation to Israel that includes the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible) punishable by death.

He was overthrown by the Maccabees who took back the Temple of Jerusalem. Following this, he issued an 8-day celebration of the Jewish faith. This was marked by the rekindling of the menorah on the 25th of Kislev. The menorah is a candelabrum with four places for candles on either side of a central candle for nine candles. The candle in the middle, called the Shamash, is used to light the surrounding eight candles. The reason for lighting these candles during Hanukkah is to represent the 8-days of Jewish celebration. The Shamash represents the small amount of oil that was able to keep the lamps in the Temple burning throughout.

Is Hanukkah Equivalent to Christmas?

Many people think of Hanukkah as the Jewish equivalent of Christmas, but this is not the case. Where Christmas marks the celebration of the birth of Christ, Hanukkah is a celebration of the victory of a righteous group.

There are, however, similarities in how the two holidays are celebrated. Both Hanukkah and Christmas embrace the spirit of giving. With both holidays, the emphasis placed on festivities and gift-giving.

Jews celebrate Christmas eve differently than Christians do. For Jewish people, Christmas eve is known as Nittel Nacht. On Nittel Nacht, it is said that werewolves and vampires roam the streets, so everyone stays indoors and eats copious amounts of garlic to ward off these spirits. You are also not allowed to engage in sexual intercourse on Nittel Nacht, as it is said that your children will be born evil if conceived on this day.

Do Messianic Jews Celebrate Christmas?

Messianic Jews are essentially the middle ground between Jews and Christians. They believe that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah but still celebrate Jewish holidays and follow other Jewish beliefs. While they believe in Jesus as the Messiah, Messianic Jews tend to not believe in Christmas. They are of the same Jewish belief that westernized Christmas traditions like Santa Claus are ways for industries to gain profits.

Does Israel Celebrate Christmas?

Israel has, in recent years, started decorating the streets for Christmas, mainly for the influx of tourists around this time. Christmas in Israel is not really celebrated by locals, as most of the population is Jewish. Christmas in Jerusalem is great for tourists as the streets are decorated beautifully, and places such as the YMCA hold special Christmas services.

The Meaning of Christmas to Jews

Aside from sharing a date, there is no relationship between Hanukkah and Christmas. There may be an overlap in their core principles; however, they celebrate vastly different things. Christmas, for this reason, doesn't mean much to Jews. For Israel's Jewish population, Christmas simply means an influx of tourists in the holy land.