Patheos answers the question:

Do Jews Celebrate Christmas?

A Jewish star

Jewish people do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. This is because the holiday of Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, a figure whose birth and death are a significant aspect of Christian theology and soteriology. In Judaism, the birth of Jesus Christ is not an event that has theological significance and, so, there is no reason to celebrate it. Some Jews who live in parts of the world where Christmastime is a generally festive and celebratory season might participate in certain elements of celebration that are associated with Christmas, such as having a Christmas tree.

This is especially true for Jewish communities coming from countries, like Russia, where pine trees are associated more generally with the New Year and its commemoration. Some Jews might attend Christmas pageants or sing Christmas songs in order to participate in celebrations taking place in their school, place of business, neighborhood, or broader community. 

Some Jewish people might attend or host Christmas celebrations if there are Christians in their immediate family. This might include Jewish people who are married to Christian people, or who grew up in homes where Jewish and Christian heritages were both celebrated. In this case, the celebration of Christmas is often about being with family and sharing happy memories, but not a religious celebration. 

The holiday of Christmas sometimes overlaps with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah. Unlike the major holidays in Judaism, including Passover and Yom Kippur, the holiday of Hanukkah is a minor Jewish holiday which lasts for eight nights, and which celebrates the historic victory of the Jewish Maccabees against the Greek-Syrian empire of the time—which allowed for the reclamation and rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated with special prayers and the practice of publicly lighting candles each night in a special candelabra known as a hanukkiah (sometimes referred to as a menorah). In many countries, the celebration of the holiday of Hanukkah by Jews has taken on customs that are similar to some of the ways in which Christians celebrate Christmas, including a practice of gift-giving and decorating with wreaths or bells. The holiday of Hanukkah usually falls in December (though sometimes it can be at the end of November). This means that in countries where celebrating Christmas is part of the public atmosphere, the celebration of Hanukkah has often become public as well, and is sometimes known by non-Jewish communities as “the Jewish Christmas.”  

Historically speaking, the Christmas season was sometimes a fraught time for Jews who lived in countries where they were persecuted by the majority population. As a result, some Jewish rituals evolved in association with Christmastime as a means of keeping Jews safe. These include staying home all night and not engaging in Jewish activities that could antagonize the general population. 

Learn more about Judaism here.

11/15/2023 12:11:01 AM