by Avram Yehoshua
Hanuka is like a mini July 4th (Independence Day for the USA). For God's people Israel there is more than one time when He delivered us from slavery and oppression, and Hanuka is one of those times. Purim (the book of Esther) is another time. They both commemorate God's deliverance of His people. The greatest deliverance is Passover, both in Egypt and in Jerusalem: one with Moses and the other with Yeshua our Messiah.
Hanuka and Purim are holidays, not holy days (or holy times) like Passover. There are no Sabbaths associated with either Hanuka or Purim (except for the weekly 7th Day Sabbath that will fall in any eight day celebration of Hanuka). Neither Hanuka or Purim are found in Torah (Mosaic Law), but Purim is found in the Tanach (Old Testament), and Hanuka is mentioned in John 10:22 (it's usually called the Feast of Dedication, and this is what hanuka means, to dedicate).
If you've not read the First Book of Maccabees it would be good to do so as it is truly inspiring and faith building. I love the accounts where the Jews were greatly outnumbered, but the leader, Judah Maccabee, offers powerful and godly prayers to God, and God would give him the victory. I center in on just the first book as it's the historical reality of the battles and conditions of the Jewish people. There are a number of books of Maccabees, but the first is the story of biblical heroism against all odds, grounded in faith toward Yahveh, and is the basis for Hanuka. 
Hanuka celebrates the mighty deliverance of God through the Maccabees, who fought against the evil Syrian king, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. He forbid the observance of Torah, and demanded that all the Jews walk in Hellenistic culture and worship the Greek gods and goddesses. He murdered the Jewish people who wouldn't. Anyone who kept the Sabbath or circumcision or had Scriptures in their possession was sentenced to death.
Outnumbered by trained armies, the priests and people of Judah, under Judah Maccabee, fought and won battle after battle, due to their faith in God. They were able to re-take possession of the Temple and cleanse it from the idol statue of the Syrian king Antiochus IV, three years to the day that it was defiled by him. He had erected a statue of Zeus with his face on it and wanted everyone to worship him as Zeus incarnate, hence the title Epiphanes (God appears/manifests). The Jews called him Epimanes (the madman), a play on Epiphanes. He also had a pig sacrificed on the Altar of Sacrifice, thus defiling it.
Did Yeshua Celebrate Hanuka?
It's very interesting that Yeshua came to Jerusalem in the middle of the winter, which is no mean task when traveling on foot from the Sea of Galilee. John notes that it was at the time of Hanuka:
'At that time, the Festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon.' (John 10:22-23)
Yeshua's main area or territory of ministering was one hundred miles (160 kilometers) north of Jerusalem, around the Sea of Galilee. Why would Yeshua be in Jerusalem for a non-Sabbath holiday. Basically, the only times we see Him in Jerusalem are at the Feasts of Israel (Mt. 26:2, 17; Lk. 2:41; 22:15; Jn. 2:23; 6:4; 11:55; 13:1, etc.), where Yahveh commands all Israeli males to appear before Him (Ex. 23:17; 34:23; Dt. 16:16). Why was Yeshua in Jerusalem at Hanuka time, in the dead of winter? Why would Yeshua leave the relatively warmer climate of the Sea of Galilee area for the mountainous, windy, cold and rainy city of Jerusalem in mid-December?
Yeshua, being there at that time, indicates that He expressly came for the Feast of Dedication. Why? Because there's no reason for Him to be in cold, windy and wet Jerusalem in the winter, other than He went there, with other Jews, to celebrate God's mighty deliverance of Israel through the Maccabees about 200 years earlier. Now I realize that this is not definitive 'proof,' but it is a strong indication that Hanuka was seen by Him (and all the Apostles) as 'good.' He was there, and Scripture records it, to make a point. It's good to celebrate Hanuka! 
When we look at what John writes and what transpired at Yeshua's Hanuka, we can't help but see a parallel between it and the reason for Hanuka. The King of Syria, Antiochus IV, who called himself Epiphanes, had control of Judah before the Maccabees rose up. Into the Temple he had placed a statue of himself, to be worshipped as God. On the Altar he had many pigs sacrificed to himself and other gods. The Maccabees put an end to that demonic intrusion, destroying the Altar (because it had become defiled by pigs), and building another (1st Mac. 4:38-47). They also took out all the pagan objects of worship. Once cleansed, the Temple was then dedicated, or rather rededicated, for the eight days that we've come to know as Hanuka.
With Yeshua, God the Son, coming into the Temple, we have the Living God manifest, just the opposite of the idolatry of the King of Syria proclaiming himself God incarnate, through his name and the statue. Unfortunately, there were Jews in Messiah's day that wanted to stone Yeshua because He was telling them that He was God incarnate, one with God (Jn. 10:22-39). Yeshua told those Jews that they weren't His sheep, but later we see other Jews that did believe that Yeshua was the Messiah (Jn. 10:40-42).
Yeshua's Hanuka is quite significant. The Maccabees fought so they could worship the Living God. With the appearance or manifestation of Yeshua we see the Living God enter His Temple (John 14:1-11), a direct refutation of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his erecting of himself as Zeus incarnate in the Temple.
Rabbinic Judaism teaches that when the Temple was re-taken, there was some olive oil found in it for the Menorah (seven branched Lampstand; Ex. 25:31-40), but only a day's worth. There's no reference in Maccabees to the oil being 'found,' or that one day's worth lasted for the eight days of Hanuka. It's a rabbinic fairy tale the Rabbis made up to embellish Hanuka, and try to find meaning in why Hanuka is an eight day celebration (1st Mac. 4:59), and not just a day or two. Eight days for Hanuka is seen in First Maccabees:
'Then Judas (Judah) and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that time, the days of dedication of the Altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Kislev' (1st Maccabees 4:59).
Some think the eight days were a substitute for the fact that they hadn't been able to observe the previous Sukote (Feast of Tabernacles) in October, and so, they were doing it in December. So, in December, when the Maccabees cleansed the Temple of the pagan things and tore down the desecrated Altar, they kept Sukote and its eight days (in their make-shift huts in the bitter cold of December?! Lev. 23:33-44) as a way of celebrating their victory in not having been able to celebrate the previous Sukote.
There are problems, though, with aligning Hanuka with Sukote. Even the Maccabees didn't have the authority to change the Lord's time for keeping Sukote in the 7th month to the 9th month. Also, their edict speaks of keeping the celebration of Hanuka in Kislev (December) annually, which means that it wasn't Sukote they were keeping during those eight days. The edict plainly states that the celebration was to be kept in memory of 'the days of dedication of the Altar.'
There is a biblical reason, though, why Hanuka lasts for eight days. When Moses consecrated Aaron and his sons for the priesthood, and the Tabernacle was initially dedicated for service, there's an eight day period (Lev. 8-9). Seven days were the days of consecration and dedication of the priests and the Tabernacle, and the eighth day was the first day of official service. This, I believe, was on the minds of the Torah observant Maccabees and the reason for the eight days because the word hanuka means dedication. As such, Hanuka becomes for us an eight day period of re-dedication of ourselves (the temple of God; 1st Cor. 3:16-17; 6:19) to God the Father in the name of His Son, Messiah Yeshua, asking Him to cleanse us of our idols, that we might be fully consecrated and dedicated to Him!
Hanuka is a holiday commemorating a time when Yahveh moved mightily for the salvation of His Jewish people. It's a real historical event. It's not a holy time, but a holiday commemorating an historical time in Hebrew history that God moved to deliver His Jewish people from certain death. It is a mini-deliverance times or mini-Passover (Passover being the day of deliverance).
What's the difference between a holy day and a holiday? Holy days and holy times are authorized and commanded by God and have annual Sabbaths within them. These can all be seen in Leviticus 23. Holidays like Hanuka and Purim are not holy and fall into the category of something like the Fourth of July or Presidents Day, etc., for the USA.
Much on Hanuka is culturally Jewish of course, like eating potato latkes in commemoration of the Temple's pure olive oil for the Menorah (building on the oil of the rabbinic legend because the latkes are fried in oil). Some other things are very non-productive, though, like the giving of gifts for the eight nights. This is in competition with Christmas and not to be emulated. As nice as gifts are to receive, Hanuka is not about gift giving, but about God's deliverance of the nation of Judah and the re-dedication of the Temple, which speaks of the giving of ourselves, our re-dedication (the Temple of the Lord) to our Father through His Son, Messiah Yeshua.
There are many Jewish traditions that surround both Hanuka and Purim, but Ruti and I generally don't follow them. One we do follow is the lighting of the Hanuka lights. We use either candles or small oil lamps for the eight days. The first night one lamp is lit and the second night two lamps are lit, etc. It's a visual reminder for each of the eight days about God's ability to deliver.
When we had our congregation in Tulsa, OK, USA we'd meet every other night (as every night was very taxing on the people and on us), and everyone would bring food. We'd read some from the First Book of Maccabees, light the lights for the night and bless the Lord. Then we'd sit down to eat and fellowship together. After that we'd watch something like Fiddler on the Roof, or The Chosen, or Exodus with Paul Newman, for their ethical and cultural Jewish content. Also might watch watch Jesus of Nazareth (over a two night period),  which I consider to be the best 'Jesus' film ever made, in spite of some flaws (like Joseph wearing payot, the long side-curls of the Hasidic and some Orthodox Jews today, and also, many Jews wearing the yarmulke or kipa, etc.). We'd also see The Rabbi From Tarsus by Phil Goble (again some flaws, like the wearing of the kipa and the fact that Paul was never a rabbi and no one ever spoke of him as such, not even he), but the content is exceptional. In Tulsa we'd have 'Happy Hanuka' decorations and balloons, which always gave it a festive atmosphere. It's also a great time to sing praises to Yeshua and read from the Word.
Make up your own traditions for Hanuka. It's allowed : ) Remember that the core of the celebration is dedication to God. You might also want to read a portion of a book every night like, Hinds' Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, or A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards, or The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, or Hudson's Taylor's Spiritual Secret by Dr. Howard Taylor, etc.
Is Hanuka the Jewish Answer to Christmas?
Hanuka is nothing like Christmas and so it can't, and shouldn't, be compared to it. Christmas is very pagan. It celebrates the birth of the pagan Christ or savior from the stump of an evergreen tree, in the dead of winter. This symbolizes the pagan Christ's victory over the darkness of winter, as Dec. 25th is the first day that ancient man could determine when the amount of light in the day increased (having decreased from mid-summer or the summer solstice). The god of Christmas was called 'the Christ' (what we would call the false Christ or anti-Christ), and was also seen as the son of the sun god. The sun was the greatest natural object of veneration in ancient times.
Hanuka is an historical time that remembers that the God of Israel delivered the Jewish people from annihilation. The only thing Christmas and Hanuka have in common is that they are both in December.
As for the giving of 'Hanuka gifts,' I discourage this as it's only a recent Jewish custom that has bled over into Hanuka because it's so close to Christmas. The Jewish children would tell their parents of all the toys that the Christian children got for Christmas and so the Jewish parents began to give their children gifts for each night of Hanuka, but it's not part of Hanuka proper, and we should steer ourselves away from that. It's not only expensive and unnecessary, it pollutes and corrupts a Jewish holiday. If you want to give gifts to your children, you can do it on any day of the year. Please don't tie it into Hanuka, the Feast of Dedication. It's a time of giving ourselves to Yeshua, not giving gifts to our children.
If Hanuka, Can't We Also Celebrate Thanksgiving?
Some Christians see a link between Thanksgiving Day, with the Pilgrims, and what the Maccabees did in authorizing Hanuka. If the Maccabees could do that why couldn't the Pilgrims do a similar thing? There is a resemblance, but the link quickly breaks because Hanuka, and Purim, do not oppose the holy days of God, but Thanksgiving Day does.
Also, Thanksgiving Day wasn't a creation of the Pilgrims. It was first celebrated by them in 1621, but they had taken the idea of a day of giving thanks to God for the harvest, from England, where they had come from. England had taken it from the ancient Romans and the Greeks. All ancient peoples had a day of giving thanks unto their gods and/or goddesses for the harvest of the final crops of the year in autumn.
Both Hanuka and Purim denote victories of God over the enemies of Israel, while Thanksgiving Day, a holy day for the Church, in whatever country it is observed, for many countries have 'Thanksgiving Day' (e.g. Canada, who had no Pilgrims), confronts, contradicts and nullifies Sukote (the Feast of Tabernacles)-God's 8 days of giving thanks to Him for the end of the year harvest, which is the exact concept of Satan's counterfeit-Thanksgiving Day.
Neither Hanuka, nor Purim do away with, or are a substitute for Pesach (Passover), but fall under it as mini-times or days of deliverance, and as such, should be kept.
The history of Thanksgiving comes straight out of paganism, no matter what noble American cause has been added to it. The Pharisees also had their noble ideas, which nullified God's Word. Should we celebrate a pagan holy day to the God of Israel, when He expressly forbids such? Here's what our God says:
"Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of Yahveh your God. "When Yahveh your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you do not inquire after their gods, saying, "How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.' You must not worship Yahveh your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods; for they burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods. "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it." (Deuteronomy 12:28-32)
The first king of northern Israel, Jeroboam, also proclaimed a substitute time for giving thanks to God, but it wasn't acceptable to God, as is evident from what Scripture records about him (1st Kings 12:26-13:5). Man has no right or authority from God to proclaim a holy day unto Him. Thanksgiving Day was not acceptable to God 3,000 years ago in the northern kingdom of Israel. How could it be such today?
Thanksgiving Day evolved from paganism. It's not something that our God, or His people, originally came up with. It has nothing to do with the God of Israel, even though the Pilgrims worshipped Him. They didn't know or keep Torah, which meant that they didn't know about Sukote. If they had it would have been different them. On the other hand, both Hanuka and Purim commemorate times when God moved mightily to save His people Israel, and they don't take anything away from God's holy days.
Hanuka is an historical event that we Jewish people (and all Gentiles who believe in Yeshua because they've been grafted into Israel) should celebrate as another time when God delivered His people and His Temple was rededicated. It's in recognition of this that the celebration takes place. Hanuka means dedication and points to the re-dedicating of the Altar and the Temple after it was taken back from the hands of the wicked Syrian king. It has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.
The major theme of Hanuka is re-dedicating ourselves to our Father, in the name of Yeshua, and to His purpose for our lives. I see the cleansing of the Temple, in the days of the Maccabees, as an apt picture for what Yeshua wants to do with us-cleanse our temple or the dwelling place of the Living God within us (1st Cor. 3:16). With Yeshua, the visible manifestation of the Living God, being in Jerusalem for Hanuka, Yeshua authenticates Hanuka for all of us and our children.
 The First Book of Maccabees can be read in the New Revised Standard Version, etc., or ask Avram to email you the PDF of it.
 I'm indebted to Margaret of San Antonio, TX, USA for these next two paragraphs. Her email spoke of the blasphemy that began Hanuka, and the blasphemy of Yeshua's Hanuka.
 The film Jesus of Nazareth is on two DVDs and lasts for six and a half hours. It can be bought fromAmazon at http://www.amazon.com/Jesus-Nazareth-Robert-Powell/dp/B0000633QW/ref=sr_1_1?s=movies-tv&ie=UTF8&qid=1419634860&sr=1-1&keywords=jesus+of+nazareth .
 Why is the kipa wrong in these films? Because no Jew back then ever heard of a kipa, let alone wore one. The kipa is of relatively modern origin, first appearing around the 16th century. What the Jews wore in the days of Yeshua was a traditional head-covering to protect their hair from the sun and the dirt in the air. For more on the kipa see The Kipa at http://www.seedofabraham.net/thekipa.html.
 Revised on 26 December 2014.