Why is Christmas on the 25th of December?

Because that’s when Santa Claus comes.

No.

Because that’s the day Jesus was born.

Wrong again. The reason is that the Catholic church chose that date. Why exactly the 25th of December? That is what this post will hopefully answer.

The Catholic church chose the day of a pagan festival in order to replace it, so that the pagans would not celebrate their gods any more but Jesus instead.

Not far from the truth, but it is actually a little more complicated than that. In fact, they did not really want to replace the pagan feast. But that’s what this post is all about.
It is a difficult task to write about this topic, since there are so many different gods with the same origin, under different names and all with slightly different legends surrounding them. I want to try and summarize the most important ones.

A Christmas Tale

Once upon a time, in the ancient days, there was a god in the Pantheon of gods, called Mithra in Persia, or Mithras by the Greeks and Romans. He was also called the god of the light.

According to the beliefs of the time, Mithras was the son of Ahura-Mazda, the so-called Knowing Lord. In most depictions, he was shown being born from a rock wearing a phrygian cap, while in others, he is born from an egg (a symbol of fertility) and lastly, from a tree. Mithras’ most prominent symbols are the items he is given at his birth: a dagger (which he later used to kill a bull) and a torch.1

Mithras slaying the bull in his caveMithras slaying the bull in his cavea

This birth from a tree has a precedent in the Babylonian tale surrounding the birth of the unconquered sun:
Many different versions exist of the story, but the most widely one is told by Ovid in his work called Metamorphoses3&4:
According to the tale, Aphrodite compelled Myrrha (or Smyrna) to sleep with her father Theias, king of Assyria. When he found out, Myrrha had to run and she was turned into a myrrh tree. But Theias struck the tree with an arrow, after which it cracked open and Adonis emerged.
Adonis is later mortally wounded, either by a wild boar, Apollo or Ares, and he dies in his mother’s arms.

These are the very features of the Adonis legend: which is celebrated on flat roof-tops on which sherds sown with quickly germinating green salading are placed, Adonis gardens. The atmosphere of the festival is infused with the sweet aroma of incense, but the climax is loud lamentation for the dead god. The dead Adonis was then laid out on his bier in the form of a statuette and borne to his grave […]. The women afterwards consoled themselves with the assurance that the god was living.4

The name Adonis is of Semitic origin, and it is a form of Adon (meaning Lord). According to Burkert, the Adonis was mostly based on the Mesopotamian god Tammuz4. The prophet Ezekiel shows how similar these two cults are:

Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the Lord, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, “Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these.” And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. Ezekiel 8:14-16

This sun worship revolved around the winter solstice, as follows: The sun moves towards the south until the winter solstice, on the 21st of december. It then stays there for three days, from the 22nd to the 24th, before it starts moving north again. In the sun worship, these three days were considered a three day long death of the sun, with its re-birth on the 25th of december, called Natalis Invicti in Latin (Birth of the unconquered).
Centuries before Jesus was born, the followers of Mithras believed that their master was born on December the 25th, the day of the birth of the new sun (or the winter solstice).1&2 To celebrate this, they would light torches or candles, on a day they would call Sun-Day.
The symbolism in Ezekiel’s vision is uncanny: These people were looking at the sun in the east, turning our back to the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence is (Shekhinah, שכינה). When God calls us to repent (literal meaning: to turn around), He wants us to turn our back to the sun and to pagan religions (Deuteronomy 4:19), in order to follow him. In fact, the ten commandments state that the people who worship idols hate God (Exodus 20:5), as one of the most important premises of the Bible is to worship the creator, and not the creation.
An unknown Christian Syrian writer tells us that the catholic church chose the 25th of december to celebrate the birth of Jesus5:

The reason why our fathers changed the solemnity celebrated on 6 January, and transferred it to 25 December follows: it was the custom of the heathens to celebrate the birthday of the sun on this very day, 25 December, and on it they lit lights on account of the feast. In these solemnities and festivities the Christians too participated. When, therefore, the teachers observed that the Christians were inclined to this festival, they took counsel and decided that the true birth-feast be kept on this day, and on 6 Jan., the feast of the Epiphanies.

Clement of Alexandria (an early church scholar) states that there are those, too, who over-curiously assign to the Birth of Our Saviour not only its year but its day, which they say to be on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus5. This date makes more sense considering the fact that this is when shepherds would have been tending their flocks in the field and lambs were born. Nevertheless, the most plausible date is for Jesus’ birth is the feast of Sukkot.9;10;11
And that’s how the sun god was incorporated into Christianity. The same sun god worshiped all over the Middle East: In Babylon, Mithra was identified with Shamash, the sun god, and he is also Ba’al, the Mesopotamian and Canaanite/Phoenician solar deity, who is likewise Marduk, the Babylonian god who represented both the planet Jupiter and the sun.6 This is by far not a complete list (Example: The Egyptians had a celebration of Horus’ birth on the 25th of december, while his mother was the virgin goddess Isis).

Symbols of the sun worship in Catholic tradition

Mosaic in Hagia SophiaMosaic in Hagia Sophiab

In some Roman depictions, Mithras was shown with a sunburst behind his head, either as a disk or with sun rays. The same symbolism was taken over into Christianity. In the Roman Catholic depiction of Christ, he has a sun behind his head. Not only that, but a picture is not to be made, according to the ten commandments:

You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Exodus 20:4

Altar of ShamashAltar of Shamashc

The Babylonian sun-god Shamash had a symbol of sun-rays combined of straight and wavy lines, symbols of sexuality or sexual conception, a symbol present on the pope’s fish hat, for example. The same symbol of sun-rays is present in many of the Catholic banners and flags.
Many more claims exist about Mithras. The problem with these claims is that it is very hard to prove or disprove them, as there are so many contradicting sources. The Encyclopedia Britannica makes an interesting statement:

There is little notice of the Persian god [Mithra] in the Roman world until the beginning of the 2nd century, but, from the year AD 136 onward, there are hundreds of dedicatory inscriptions to Mithra. This renewal of interest is not easily explained. The most plausible hypothesis seems to be that Roman Mithraism was practically a new creation, wrought by a religious genius who may have lived as late as c. AD 100 and who gave the old traditional Persian ceremonies a new Platonic interpretation that enabled Mithraism to become acceptable to the Roman world7

Therefore, I conclude that some claims about Mithras were copied from the story of Jesus, not the other way round (like the ones above I could not find sources for).8 These are a few examples:

  • Mithras had 12 disciples, standing for the 12 signs of the zodiac. This was part of the worship of the sun and stars.
  • Mithras’ body was laid in a rock tomb.
  • He had a celibate priesthood. Jesus on the other hand is married to his people (who are called the bride): To be a priest, this is a requirement.16&17
  • Mithras ascended into heaven in the spring equinox (easter).
  • Three wise men from Persia came to worship the saviour-god Mithras, bringing him gold, myrrh and frankincense. Note that the bible does not state how many wise man came to honour Jesus at his birth.

Nevertheless, sun worship was prevalent in the ancient Middle East and it has unfortunately made its way into Christianity.

The integration of Mithraic traditions in Christianity

Nabarz (2005) seems to think that Paul was at the head of the integration of paganism into Christianity:

The assimilation of Mithraism by its rival Christianity resulted in the early decline and loss of true meaning in both religions. […] The person who stood at the head of this process of systematic assimilation was Paul of Tarsus. Tarsus was one of the hotbeds of Mithras/Perseus worship.12

In fact, Paul fought fought this integration, and spoke from a hebraic perspective easily mistaken without the knowledge of the culture of the time. According to Nabarz, some examples of Paul’s references to the Mithraic sun-god worship:

  • Paul mentions those who exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Romans 1:23), possibly a reference to Mithraic animal masks used in initiations for the seven degrees.
  • Nabarz mistakes the armour of god (Ephesians 6) for a symbol of the warrior-sun-god Mithras, while Paul was probably describing the temple guard.

The New Catholic encyclopedia states:

The birth of Christ was assigned the date of the winter solstice’ (December 25 in the Julian calendar, January 6 in the Egyptian), because on this day, as the sun began its return to northern skies, the pagan devotees of Mithra celebrated the dies natalis Solis Invicti (birthday of the invincible sun). On Dec. 25, 274, Aurelian had proclaimed the sun-god principal patron of the empire and dedicated a temple to him in the Campus Martius. Christmas originated at a time when the cult of the sun was particularly strong at Rome.13

Nabarz lists further similarities:12

  • The equidistant cross was a symbol of the sun long before Christianity adopted the crucifix. Comment: There are many different shapes of roman crosses,14 and Jesus was probably crucified on a T-shaped cross.15
  • The bishops eventually adapted the mitre as a sign of their office.
  • The christian priest ultimately became “Father”, although Jesus says And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Mat. 23.9).
  • The bishops eventually adapted the mitre as a sign of their office.
  • The Mithraic feast of communion, where Mithras, Sol, and the initiates sit around the table of the “slayed bull”, before Mithras and Sol ascend to heaven in Sol’s chariot, is closely echoed by Christ’s Last Supper and his ascension to heaven. Here, Nabarz mistakes the feast of Passover (Pessach) that Jesus celebrated with his disciples, like every other Jew, once a year.

The origin of the Christmas tree is very similar, and again, in the sun-god worship:

The use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands to symbolize eternal life was a custom of the ancient Egyptians, Chinese, and Hebrews. Tree worship was common among the pagan Europeans and survived their conversion to Christianity in the Scandinavian customs of decorating the house and barn with evergreens at the New Year to scare away the devil and of setting up a tree for the birds during Christmastime.18

Conclusions

It is sad to see how many ancient cultures had a basis enabling them to recognize the true Messiah, but instead they were deceived into falling for worshiping the sun. Mixing that into our traditions and festivities is a smart plot of God’s enemy, because it mixes truth and lie, twisting the truth. The result, what many people who have looked into this topic seem to believe, is that Jesus’ story was merely a retelling of a more ancient tradition. I believe that Satan chose to create similar stories from what he knew was prophecied in the bible about Jesus, in order to confuse us.
In fact, none of those figures fulfills the prophecies about the Messiah, except for Jesus. But we have to be careful not to mistake Jesus the Christian with pagan roots with Jesus (or Yeshua) the Jewish Rabbi. Because when we look at Christianity through the pagan glasses, there is a danger of seeing an ancient sun-god, but when we look at Jesus through Hebrew Biblical glasses, we will see Messiah (Mashiach, מָשִׁיחַ‎).

References

1 Vermaseren, M.J. in Gerevich, László; Studia Archaeologica, Gerardo Van Hoorn Oblata (Studia Van Hoorn); Brill Archive, 1951; p. 93-109; on Google Books
2 Giles, Herbert Allen; Great religions of the world; Harper, 1901; on Google Books
3 Ovid, Metamorphoses; Latin and English
4 Burkert, Walter; Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical; Harvard University Press, 1985; on Google Books
5 Article in The Catholic Encyclopedia
6 Legge, Francis; Forerunners and rivals of Christianity: being studies in religious history from 330 B.C. to 330 A.D.; University Press, 1915; on Google Books, full text on Archive.org
7 Encyclopedia Britannica, Article on Mithraism, edition 2004
8 Blog on WordPress.com
9 Article on Hatikvah.org
10 Article on bethhamashiach.com
11 Article by Dr. James Trimm
12 Nabarz, Payam; The Mysteries of Mithras, the pagan belief that shaped the Christian world; Inner Traditions / Bear & Co, 2005; on Google Books
13 The New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1967, Vol. III
14 Josephus, Wars of the Jews, 5.11.1
15 Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 9 (In Greek, translations into English). Also, Lucian (rhetorician of the 2nd century) speaks of Prometheus as crucified above the ravine with his hands outstretched and explains that the letter T (the Greek letter tau) was looked upon as an unlucky letter or sign, saying that the letter got its “evil significance” because of the “evil instrument” which had that shape, an instrument which tyrants hung men on (ibidem). See also: Wikipedia
16 Mishnah, Seder Moed, Yoma 1.1 based on Lev. 21:7,13 and traditions; p. 273, note 11
17 Article on the Jewish Encyclopedia
18 “Christmas tree”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 01 Dec. 2012

Images:
a Mithras slaying the bull, Wikisource
b Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, Wikisource
c Altar of Shamash, on Gutenberg.org

Additional links

  • Excellent site refuting claims that Christianity has its origins in Mithraism: Link
  • Excerpt of QI about Christmas
  • Rico Cortes about Mithraism: Part 1 and Part 2
  • Well-documented sources and extensive information on the history of the sun worship: Truthbeknown.com
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How can I know that a biblical text is symbolic?

There are several ways to tell that a text is not to be understood literally. Indications are:

  • Symbolic numbers: 3, 6 (meaning: mankind1), 7, 12 (the number of tribes of Israel), 1000 (meaning: many, a lot)
  • A genealogy that is out of order: When a genealogy is out of order, relate it either to the meaning of the names given or to prophecies about these people.

Example

Then I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, with the seal of the living God, and he called with a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm earth and sea, saying, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, until we have sealed the servants of our God on their foreheads.”
And I heard the number of the sealed, 144,000, sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel:
12,000 from the tribe of Judah were sealed, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 12,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 12,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 12,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 from the tribe of Benjamin were sealed.
Rev. 7:2-8

There are several reasons why this text is not to be taken literally:

  • The genealogy is out of order. Ruben is the oldest son, but he does not come first.
  • The tribe of Dan is missing. This does not mean that descendants of Dan will not be in the kingdom of God.
  • Ephraim and Manasseh are both sons of Joseph and they both have a piece of the territorial inheritance like Isaac’s sons. As such, usually, only Joseph (as an umbrella term for both Ephraim and Manasseh) or his sons are usually mentioned. Here though, both Joseph and his son Manasseh are mentioned, but Ephraim is missing.
  • Since Levi has no territorial inheritance, when he is mentioned, Ephraim and Manasseh are usually put under the umbrella term of Joseph so that there are 12 tribes. But Joseph is mentioned differently in this passage, and Dan is omitted so that there are 12 tribes.

Meaning of the numbers

The numbers in this passage are easy to interpret: 12 is the number of the people. Here, 144’000 (12×12×1000) symbolises the people multiplied (12×12) and many of them (1000). This means not just many people, but something like so many that they can not be counted. And each tribe constitutes a people of many (12×1000).

Meaning of the names of the tribes

My strategy to further understand this text was to have a look at the meaning of the names given here, in this order. If no meaning had emerged, I would have gone back to Genesis 47 and 48, and tried to put the blessings of Jacob in the order they are mentioned there. However, simply following the meaning of the names of the tribe patriarchs showed clear evidence for a prophetic meaning of the list.
The following table shows the order of names as given in Rev. 7, along with their meaning. In the ancient Hebrew culture, names were given because of their meaning, and this meaning was often explained by the parents. In order to understand the name, the explanation was listed here as given in the book of Genesis.

Birth order Name Hebrew Meaning Explanation by the parents
4 Judah (Yehuda) יְהוּדָה to thank or praise Leah: “This time I will praise the Lord.” (Gen. 29.35)
1 Reuben (Ruben) ראובן “See, a son” Leah: “Because the Lord has looked upon my affliction; for now my husband will love me.” (Gen. 29.32)
7 Gad גָּד Luck or good fortune Leah (for Zilpah): “Good fortune has come!” (Gen. 30.11)
8 Asher אָשֵׁר Happy or blessed Leah (for Zilpah): “Happy am I! For women have called me happy.” (Gen. 30.13)
6 Naphtali נַפְתָּלִי My struggle or wrestlings Rachel (for Bilhah):“With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled with my sister and have prevailed.” (Gen. 30.8)
(13) Manasseh (son of Joseph) מְנַשֶּׁה To forget Joseph: “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” (Gen. 41.51)
2 Simeon (Shimon) שמעון “He has heard” Leah: “Because the Lord has heard that I am hated, he has given me this son also.” (Gen. 29.33)
3 Levi לֵּוִי‎ Attached or joined Leah: “Now this time my husband will be attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” (Gen. 29.34)
9 Issachar יִשָּׂשכָר Reward or recompense Leah: “God has given me my reward because I gave my servant to my husband.” (Gen. 30.18)
10 Zebulun (Zvulun) זְבֻלוּן Gift or honour Leah: “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons.” (Gen. 30.20)
11 Joseph יוֹסֵף “May the Lord add.” Rachel: “May the Lord add to me another son!” (Gen. 30.24)
12 Benjamin בנימין Son of the right hand Jacob names Benjamin (Gen. 35.18). Rachel had first called him “Ben-Oni”, meaning “Son of my suffering”.
  • Note 1 (as stated above): Dan (Jacob’s 5th son) is missing (Dan means “judge”, which Rachel – who names the boy her servant Bilhah had – explains: “God has judged me, and has also heard my voice and given me a son.” (Gen. 30.6))
  • Note 2 (as stated above): Ephraim (Joseph’s 2nd son) is missing (Ephraim means “to make fruitful”, which Joseph explains: “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” (Gen. 41.52))

The interpretation of the Revelations 7 passage becomes clear by looking at the combined meanings of the names in the given order (Note: Words not in italics were added to improve legibility.):

I will praise the Lord for look: A son of good fortune was given. Happy am I because my wrestling God is making me to forget. He has heard me and has given me a reward: Yahweh will add to me the Son of His right hand.

Possible interpretation of the complete passage about the 144’000

This passage gives praise to our God for sending the son of his right hand, Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah. As stated previously, the number 144’000 symbolises God’s multiplied people (12×12×1000) who will give praise to Yahweh for giving His son. They are the sealed ones.
In fact, looking at Revelations 6 gives further insight. The kings of the Earth are hiding from God’s wrath, and are asking: “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6.16-17). God’s answer are His sealed people who can stand before him, made righteous by the son of His right hand (Rev. 7). John does not use a chronological order in Revelations. He rather uses themes and ancient hebraic methods of emphasis.
Furthermore, God’s sealed people are probably to be sealed before the beginning of God’s punishment, because the angels who are holding together the earth (symbolised by the angels holding the 4 winds: These symbolise the four directions, i.e. north, south, east, west) are to hold back any spirits (“Wind” in Hebrew can also mean “spirits”) from attacking the Earth (or from blowing against it; Rev. 7.1).
Also, the 144’000 appear a second time in Revelations 14:

Then I looked, and behold, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144’000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are blameless.
Revelations 14.1-5

In order to prevent married people from being worried: The women with which the other people have defiled themselves are probably the gods of the nations. In Revelations, these are termed with “Babylon the great, mother of prostitutes and of earth’s abominations” (Rev. 17.5) and her consorts. There is no reason for this passage to be inconsistent with the language of the rest of the book of Revelations.

Some things remain open, however, as this interpretation was a Remez (רֶמֶז) interpretation, which means it uses allegorical clues. There is a possibility for some of these things to happen literally (on a Peshat (פְּשָׁט) level): For example, it is possible that God chooses the physical descendants of Jacob (nowadays called Jewish people) to do a great work in the end times, as explained by Paul in Romans 11.12: “Now if their blindness means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” This in no way means that the non-jews that were adopted (or grafted in) into God’s people will not be used as well. Ultimately, God will show His will and way of fulfilling His prophecies.

References

1 Derived from the fact that humans were created on the sixth day.

The names of Messiah

According to Raphael Patai, there are several names used for the Messiah (Mashiach, מָשִׁיחַ‎) throughout the bible and ancient rabbinic writings. Note that the author of of this work was an orthodox Jew. The following table is a compilation of the information he wrote down1:

Name Hebrew Meaning Source
Avi’Ad Shalom Eternal Father of Peace S. Buber’s note, ibid. p.87
(Anointed to) David דָּוִיד Historical allusion Y. Ber. 5a; B. Sanh. 98b (Based on Jer. 30.9, Ez. 37.25); Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16 (Based on Ps. 18:50)
E.g. Shoot, Light, Staff (for the righteous) Symbolic terms 1st Book of Enoch 48:4-6; Y. Ber. 5a; Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16
El אל God S. Buber’s note, ibid. p.87
Fragrance Symbolic term Zohar Hadash, Mid. haNe’elam to Songs, p.64c (Based on Isa. 11.3)
Hadrakh Sharp and Soft Sifre Deut. ed. Friedmann 65a (Based on Zech. 9.1)
Hanina חנינא Favour Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16 (Based on Jer. 16.3)
Head of Days Allusion to his preexistence 1st Book of Enoch 46:1-3, 48:4-6
Menahem מְנַחֵם Comforter B. Sanh. 98b; Y. Ber. 5a
Nehira נהירה Light Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16 (Based on Dan. 2:22)
Peace  שָׁלוֹם Symbolic terms Pereq Shalom p.101 (Based on Isa. 9:5, 52:7)
Pele פֶּלֶא Miracle S. Buber’s note, ibid. p.87
Shiloh שילה Mid. Mishle, ed. Buber p.87 (Based on Gen. 49:10)
Son of Man בן–אדם Special nearness to God Ezekiel; 1st Book of Enoch 46:1-3, 62:7-9
The Holy One (blessed be he) הקדוש ברוך הוא B. Meg. 13b; B. Bab. Bath. 95b
The Leprous (of the House of Study) B. Sanh. 98b (Based on Isa. 53.4); Hassidic legend on the Leper Messiah
The Name of God השם Rabbinic literature
The Name of the Messiah B. Pes. 54a, B. Ned. 39a (Based on Ps. 72.17); Gen. Rab. 1:4
The Spirit of God רוח אלהים The Spirit of Messiah Gen. Rab. 2:4 (Based on Gen. 1.2 & Isa. 11.2)
Tzidqenu, Tsadik צדקנו, צדיק Our Justice, Righteous One Mid. Mishle, ed. Buber p.87; Jer. 23.6
Yinnon יִנּוֹן to be continued, to endure forever Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16 (Based on Ps. 72:17)
Yo’etz יו-עץ Counselor S. Buber’s note, ibid. p.87

The above it obiously an this incomplete list, though thoroughly researched, as many more symbolic terms and names can be found referring to Messiah. Nevertheless, I would like to add these two names:

Name Hebrew Meaning Source
Yeshua ישוע Salvation, short form of Yehoshua My own interpretation based on Lam. Rab. 1.51, p.36, ad Lam. 1:16 (Based on Ps. 18:50)
Yehoshua יהושוע The LORD is Salvation Hand-written note by Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri uncovering the name of the Messiah2

References

1 Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts, Wayne State University Texts, Detroit 1979, p. 17-22. Link on Google Books
2 Acronym of a note saying: “He will raise the people and confirm that his word and law are standing” (ירים העם ויוכיח שדברו ותורתו עומדים), from Nrg.co.il and News1.co.il (retrieved 2012-11-26)

Hanukkah

Hanukkah (חנוכה) is the a winter feast (usually in december) meant to celebrate the rededication of the temple. It is not mentioned in the bible, but Jesus celebrated it (John 10:22-24). It starts on the 25th day of the month of Kislev (according to the jewish calendar), and it is 8 days long.

Historical background

Flavius Josephus (the Jewish Roman historian) retells the story of the background of Hanukkah1:
Before the Maccabean revolt against the Greek rulers (around 165 B.C.), the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes had desecrated the temple by forcing people to worship the Greek gods and by sacrificing a pig on the altar. He also made the people abandon their worship of God, their holy customs and reading of the Torah.
As a result, a group of four Jewish brothers, led by Judah Maccabee, started a revolt. They were known for their strong faith and loyalty to God, and they fought for 3 years before they miraculously won and freed the land of Israel from the Greco-Syrian control.

After regaining the Temple, it was cleansed by the Maccabees, cleared of all Greek idolatry, and readied for rededicated. The rededication of the Temple to the Lord took place in the year 165 BC, on the 25th day of the Hebrew month called Kislev.2

This is why Hanukkah is called the Feast of Rededication. Another miracle gave it its second name, the Festival of Lights:
As a symbol of God’s presence in the Temple, the Menorah (מְנוֹרָה, the seven-branched lampstand) had to be lit at all time. But when the Temple was rededicated, there was only enough oil left for one day because the rest of the oil had been defiled by the Greeks during their invasion. The process of purification would take a week, which would have taken too long. So the Maccabees went ahead and lit the eternal flame with the remaining supply of oil, believing that it would stay lit. And it miraculously burned for eight days, until the new sacred oil was ready. That’s why the Hanukkah Menorah (Called Hanukiah חַנֻכִּיָּה) is lit for the eight nights of the celebration.3

Hanukkah appears in John 10:22-39, where some people came to Jesus asking him if he was the Messiah, the one to liberate them from the Roman oppression.  They were hoping for a Messiah who, as an other Judah Maccabee, who would be raise an army up to free them from the Roman occupation. And Jesus confirmed that he really was the Messiah, but he also mentioned that they could not recognise him in his role of saviour because they were not his sheep (John 22:26). He came for the lost sheep of Israel, to bring them back to him, and for the gentiles. But he will come back to build an eternal kingdom, not a temporary one, just like Isaiah says:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Symbolism

The Hanukiah has 9 branches, 8 for each day, while the 9th one is considered called the servant (Shamash) used to light the other ones:

The eight candles receive their light from the one. Its role is to serve. The […] Shamash can be regarded as a visual symbol of Jesus, who gives light to all who allow themselves to shine for God. He said of himself, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28)4

John says that Jesus is the true light, “…that gives light to every man.” (John 1:9) And he was probably quoting Isaiah, whose prophecy states:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2)

Later on in the same chapter, Isaiah mentions the birth of Messiah (Isaiah 9:6-7). And Hanukkah is celebrated around the time of Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ birth. Jesus talked about himself as the temple: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19) Similarly, Hanukkah celebrates the temple of God being raised again, rededicated to celebrate our Father.

Traditions

A Hanukiah (חַנֻכִּיָּה, nine-branched lampstand) is lit during the festival. A first light is usually lit using the Shamash on the first day as sunset, an additional one on the second day, and so forth. Rabbinic law (through tradition) states that the lights should remain lit for at least half an hour per evening. Additionally, three blessings are usually said over the lights. On the first day, all three are said, while on the consecutive days, only the first two are recited.5 After the lighting of the candles, the song Ma’oz Tzur is sung. Interestingly, the first verse mentions the rock of salvation6, where salvation (יְשׁוּעָ, Yeshua) corresponds to Jesus’ name in Hebrew. Sometimes, Psalms 30, 67, and 91 are recited.

Fried food is usually eaten to remember the importance of the oil that was burning in the temple.

Wikipedia additionally states7:

The last day of Hanukkah is known as Zot Hanukkah, from the verse read on this day in the synagogue (Numbers 7:84, Zot Chanukat Hamizbe’ach, “This was the dedication of the altar”). According to the teachings of Kabbalah (Mystic Judaism) and Hasidim (Orthodox Judaism), this day is the final “seal” of the High Holiday season of Yom Kippur, and is considered a time to repent out of love for God. In this spirit, many Hasidic Jews wish each other Gmar chatimah tovah (“may you be sealed totally for good”), a traditional greeting for the Yom Kippur season.

References

1 Flavius Josephus, Book of Jewish Antiquities, Book 12, chapters 5-7 (Online)
2 Article on About.com
3 Article on JewsForJesus, and Flavius Josephus, Book of Jewish Antiquities 12:325 (Online)
4 Article on JewsForJesus
5 Shulkhan Arukh Orach Chayim 676:1–2; Transliteration of the prayers
6 Translation of the Ma’oz Tzur
7 Article on Wikipedia
8 De Noon, Steven; Hanukkah holds the Mystery of Messiah