As I write this, my Jewish relatives are counting the days left before Hanukkah, and my Christian relatives are doing the same for Christmas. Why are they counting? These holidays are the time for presents!
As they count down to the holidays, what better way is there than crossing off days on a calendar? What calendar will my relatives use? The Protestants and Catholics will use a calendar based on the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun, which is 365 or so days. My Jewish relatives will use a calendar based on the time it takes for the moon to complete its cycle, which is about 29 days.
Christmas comes each year on the 25th of December. Hanukkah, an eight-day holiday, begins each year on the 25th of Kislev.
Most of the time, the 25th of any month will not be on the same day of the week in both calendars. 2016 is an exception. The 25th of December and the 25th of Kislev come on the same Sunday, so both Christmas and Hanukkah come on the same day.
The last time this happened was 1959, and it will not happen again until 2024.
The two holidays do not have much in common. The Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ has its origins in the Christian Bible. Hanukkah celebrates the Jewish defeat of the Syrian Greeks in 165 BCE and the restoration of the Jewish temple, something that happened after completion of the Jewish Bible.
Christmas is a major Christian Holy Day, while Hanukkah is quite minor in the Jewish calendar.
Christmas and Hanukkah do share some common features. They both come at the time of the year when the days are shortest in the Northern Hemisphere, and light features in both holidays.
For Christians, it is the light of "The Star in the East" that guided the three kings of the east to Bethlehem and the baby Jesus.
For Jews, Hanukkah recalls the miracle of rekindling the flame illuminating the Holy Ark. There was only a very small amount of oil for lighting, but it lasted the eight days that it took to prepare more sacred oil.
Christians light candles during the month of the Advent leading up to Christmas, recalling the light of that miraculous star. Jews light candles for the eight days they celebrate Hanukkah and the purification of the temple.
Both holidays look to the future. For Christians, the future is the coming of the Messiah and an era of peace and good will. For Jews, Hanukkah offers the promise of restoration in this world, just as the temple was restored over two millennia ago. Hope is the theme of both.
There is also the modern tradition of a season of giving, not only to friends and relatives, but also to those who have little, and to organizations that promise a future of hope for all humanity.
Daniel E. Spector is a member of Temple Beth El in Anniston. He has a doctorate in history, focusing on Jewish history and the Middle East.