Hanukkah is a popular holiday, but many Latter-day Saints may not know much about the celebration's history or why it's recognized. Members of the Church may be surprised that there are several similarities that both Jews and Christians hold close, especially around their respective winter holidays. Here are four commonalities between Latter-day Saint beliefs and Hanukkah.
1. It is a celebration of miracles.
Similar to our celebration of Christmas and Easter, Hanukkah is an annual holiday that highlights God’s love for us and His eagerness to listen to His children. As the story is told, when Judah Maccabee, a Jewish revolutionary, entered the newly reclaimed-from-the-Greeks temple in Jerusalem, he looked for consecrated oil to light the lamps of the Menorah. Able to find only enough undefiled oil for one day, and despite knowing he needed more, he lit the flame. However, the light burned for eight days, in which time new consecrated oil was found before the Menorah went dark. This is why Hanukkah is an eight-day celebration. The Jews consider the oil’s ability to burn for an unnatural length of time as a miracle and a sign God was looking out for them.
2. It focuses on personal dedication.
Hanukkah comes from the Hebrew word meaning “dedication.” After the Jews reclamation of the temple, they rededicated the structure and built a new altar. In a similar fashion, Hanukkah is a chance for believers to rededicate themselves to the purposes of God. As Latter-day Saints, we rededicate ourselves to the covenants we’ve made with God each week by partaking of the sacrament. Additionally, around Christmas and Easter, we focus on the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our commitment to follow Him.
3. It teaches the importance of keeping our temples clean.
An important part of Judah Maccabee’s rededicating the temple was the cleansing of the Hellenistic artifacts left by their persecuting predecessors. The intent was to rid the sacred space of unholy practices.
Additionally, we believe in keeping our Latter-day temples pure and our fleshly temples pure, by keeping the Word of Wisdom. Jews keep a dietary code as well, eating only kosher foods.
4. It involves prayers revolving around gratitude and God's goodness.
Each Hanukkah night, two prayers are recited when the lighting of the Menorah takes place (with the exception of the first night, where an additional third prayer is said.) Each blessing, when translated into English, praises God and His goodness.
Just like these recited blessings, Latter-day Saints have rituals and practices to remind us of God's goodness. From the sacramental and baptismal prayers to priesthood blessings, we use written supplication to call upon and thank our Heavenly Father.
Jesus likely celebrated Hanukkah.
The miracle of the temple's extended oil took place close to 140 years before Jesus was born. Christ was a Jew and participated in Jewish practices, including the feast of the dedication, as documented in John 10:22-23:
"And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter.
And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch."
As previously mentioned, Hanukkah means "dedication." Many historians believe the feast of the dedication referred to in John and present-day Hanukkah are the same event. Our Lord knew how important it was to attend the temple, remembering the Father’s hand in our lives and the lives of our ancestors.
Learning from one another
Despite our differences, Jews and Latter-day Saints have a lot in common, from our ancient history to our storied traditions. Learning about other faiths is important. Dr. Gerald E. Jones taught, "We Latter-day Saints . . . have a great responsibility and opportunity to show to others our love and tolerance and respect to those who believe in other faiths. This attitude makes friends out of strangers."