Michael Oren: The Shared Roots of Hanukkah and Christmas

Michael Oren is a historian and Israeli ambassador to the United States.

WASHINGTON — Growing up in the only Jewish family in my New Jersey neighborhood, I always felt left out at Christmas. Our house alone lacked decorative lights, wreaths, and reindeer. Instead, we had a small menorah which, even when all nine candles were lit on the last night of Hanukkah, cast a modest light.

At school, we sang Christmas carols and the town’s center boasted a glowing tree. While I enjoyed watching my friends unwrap their gifts on Christmas morning, I was keenly aware that their holiday was unrelated to mine. While they were blessing the birth of a new faith, we were celebrating the survival of the Jewish people from spiritual annihilation.

I eventually moved to Israel where, each December, Hanukkah hymns jam the airwaves and Dec. 25 — unless it falls on the Sabbath — is a regular work day. Still, Israel has the only growing Christian community in the Middle East and, on Christmas, the country’s churches are packed. Near my home in Jerusalem, the road to Bethlehem teems with pilgrims, their path illuminated by festive lights....

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