For the first time that we can remember, both Christmas and Hanukkah begin on the 24th of December this year, with the first of eight Hanukkah candles being lit, yes, on Christmas Eve.
And eight days later, all eight Hanukkah candles are lit together on New Year’s Eve, with the holiday ending at sunset on New Year’s Day, January 1, 2017. And New Year’s is a major secular holiday, celebrated by Jews, Christians and other groups.
Thus, Jews and Christians can and are celebrating their holidays in sync with each other this year.
Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days for historical and religious reasons. In 586 BCE [Before the Common Era], the Babylonians destroyed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and exiled the Hebrews.
When the Temple was later restored by the Jews in 156 BCE, the Eternal Light in the Temple needed to be cleaned, restored, and relit. But the five Maccabee brothers, led by the Judah the Hammer (the eldest of the five Maccabee brothers) could only find one bottle of oil - enough for just a single night’s lighting.
And the miracle of the holiday is, as the story goes in the Books of Maccabees, that the one bottle of oil lasted for eight days – a true, glowing, exciting eight-day miracle.
So Jews the world over light candles on their menorahs (candle-sticks) for eight consecutive days -- adding one new candle each day - plus repeated use of a ninth "shamas" (helper) candle, used for lighting the other candles, one through eight.
Jews light one new candle for each day of Hanukkah until all eight and the shamas (ninth candle) are burning on the final day of the holiday.
This year, Hanukkah begins Christmas Eve and end on New Year’s Day -- as the 2017 New Year begins.
The celebratory overlap of Hanukkah and Christmas has only occurred four times during the last 100 years.