How Are Hanukkah and Christmas Different?

Both are widely observed gift-giving holidays that fall in December, but the similarities stop there.

Both Hanukkah and Christmas are widely observed gift-giving holidays that fall in December. But the similarities more or less stop there.

Christmas Is More Significant on the Calendar

Christmas is perhaps the most significant Christian observance of the year, marking the birth of Jesus. Hanukkah was until modern times a fairly minor Jewish observance and is not mentioned at all in the Bible. The rabbis established it much later to commemorate events that took place in the second century B.C.E.

Hanukkah Falls on a Different Date Each Year

Christmas falls every year on December 25 of the solar calendar. Hanukkah also falls on the 25th of the month — but of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which is determined by the lunar calendar. As a result, Hanukkah falls on a different date each year on the secular calendar.

They Last for Different Lengths of Time

Hanukkah is an eight-day holiday because it commemorates the miracle that one vial of oil, sufficient to light the ancient Temple light for one day, burned for a full eight. Christmas lasts one day, however some Christian denominations celebrate Christmas as a 12-day festival known as Twelvetide.

They Commemorate Different Historical Moments

Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The story that Hanukkah commemorates took place more than a century before, when the Jews revolted against the the Greek King Antiochus.

They’re Celebrated Differently

Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting candles, giving gifts and eating fried foods, while the main moments of Christmas celebrations include going to Christmas Mass, enjoying a hearty dinner, and opening presents left under a Christmas tree. Going to synagogue is not actually an important part of Hanukkah. There are special blessings incorporated into regular services during the days of Hanukkah, but there is no special Hanukkah service.

Explore Hanukkah’s history, global traditions, food and more with My Jewish Learning’s “All About Hanukkah” email series. Sign up to take a journey through Hanukkah and go deeper into the Festival of Lights.

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