Did Christmas Originate with Hanukkah?

In the incredibly short-lived English journal of 1910 called The Messianic Jew, Chaim Yedidyah Pollak (a.k.a. Theophilus Lucky) wrote an article entitled “Hanukkah or Christmas—Which?” The article was intended as a plea to his fellow Messianic Jews/Jewish Christians (the titles were more or less synonymous in Lucky’s day) to not abandon Hanukkah in order to celebrate Christmas in its stead.

According to Lucky’s description, some Jewish believers of his day saw little reason to continue the celebration of Hanukkah since the name of the Messiah is not specifically mentioned as it is during Christmas. Through a series of pleas and arguments, Lucky proposes celebrating the birth of the Master during Hanukkah, and even goes so far as to say that the Jewish believer should celebrate the Messiah’s birth at Hanukkah, although I’m sure he is not envisioning “Hanukkah bushes,” Rabbi Santa Clauses, or mistletoe. He says that Jewish believers should celebrate it, because he believes that Jewish believers historically did, just not on December 25th. It is an interesting argument, and certainly one that is controversial both in our day as well as his. However, the support he gives for this opinion is one that is truly unique and thought-provoking.

25th of Kislev, 25th of Tevet

Hanukkah begins every year on the 25th of Kislev on the Jewish calendar. Its date varies according to the Gregorian calendar, since the two calendars are not in sync. Lucky believes that the birth of Messiah was celebrated every year at Hanukkah, on the 25th of Kislev, by the early Jewish believers, as well as the early Gentile believers who were coming into the faith. He puts forth this opinion because he believes that the Messiah was born on the 25th of Kislev, or thereabouts. And since Kislev corresponds roughly to November, he says that there is no difficulty in thinking that the shepherds were out sleeping in the fields, for it would not have been too cold yet.

However, he posits that as the body of believers became predominantly Gentile, they decided that they wanted to be more in line with the Greco-Roman calendar and change the date from the 25th of Kislev to the 25th of Tevet (which corresponds roughly to December). As a way of providing proof that Christmas and Hanukkah were once connected, he notes that unlike any other Christian holiday, it is an immovable feast, just like Hanukkah is on the Jewish calendar. Also, unlike any other Christian holiday, it begins in the evening of the previous day, just like every Jewish holiday. Finally, the fact that they are both festivals of lights is the cherry on top to his argument that the two holidays were originally one.

His points are indeed compelling. Nevertheless, it is impossible to definitively corroborate Lucky’s theory with historical documentation, as there are many theories as to how Christmas got its date of December 25th. However, Lucky’s theory is one newly discovered to now consider along with the myriads of others.

An Interesting Theory

I sum this up as an interesting theory. This is not meant to encourage an observance one way or the other, but as a glimpse inside the inner workings of the mind of a Messianic Jewish luminary. Whether or not we agree with all of Lucky’s entreaties, or whether or not his assertions are indeed historically accurate, the beautiful and compelling fact that remains about this great teacher was that he earnestly called for Jewish believers to remain within the Mosaic and Judaic religious fold. He wanted Jews to retain their identity and expression, and to be a recognizable entity. Also just as beautiful is that even in his firm allegiance to Rabbinic Judaism, he still envisions Yeshua at the very center, determining and informing its expression in the life of a believer.

Many have either positive or negative views of Rabbinic Judaism. Lucky’s was highly positive, yet still entirely defined by his faith in and discipleship to Yeshua. Many also have strong feelings concerning Christmas and its origins. Lucky was not worried so much about any pagan tones to Christmas, rather he was concerned with the loss of Jewish allegiance to the Torah of Moses and the identification with the Jewish nation. In fact, it appears that he views Christmas as a thoroughly Jewish holiday, just celebrated on the wrong date.

Whatever your views or convictions, hopefully Lucky’s words at the very least prove interesting. His perspective is surely unique, and he never fails to produce an intriguing viewpoint for us to chew on. For more on the life and works of Chaim Yedidyah Pollak, a.k.a. Theophilus Lucky, stay tuned for a forthcoming resource from Vine of David.

For more about Theophilus Lucky and to read some of his works check out the collection on the Vine of David website.

Source: First Fruits of Zion