This year, for the first time in the history of the state of Israel, Christmas Day will be a public holiday. This is not the result of a sudden concession by the Israeli government to its Christian population or to honour Jerusalem as the birthplace of Christianity. It is simply because Christmas overlaps with an official Jewish holy day, Hanukkah, something which hasn’t happened for more than a century.

Unlike Catholic and Protestant Christmas, which is always on December 25 in the Gregorian calendar, Hanukkah, like other Jewish holy dates, changes each year. All Jewish festivals are reliant on the ancient Hebrew calendar which follows the phases of the moon and according to which we are now in the year 5777, not 2016.

This year, Hanukkah starts on December 24 and finishes on January 1. Next year, 2017, though, it will be prior to Christmas, December 12-20.

Regardless of how the months and days are measured, the collision of Jewish and Christian holy days draws attention to the conflict of calendars in the Holy Land. Five calendars regulate all the festivals, high holidays and fast days of the three monotheistic religions.

Few of the millions of viewers who watch the televised Midnight Mass in the Church of the Nativity on December 25 realise that they are seeing the first of a trio of Christmas Days in the Holy Land. Three Christmas Days are marked across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories by the different Christian communities, resulting in three Christmases on different dates in the same towns.

Although Jesus observed the Hebrew lunar calendar, which continues to be the official calendar of both Judaism and Israel, the Julian calendar, which had been initiated by Julius Caesar in 46BC to reform the Roman calendar, was then the calendar of the Roman administrators of Palestine. The Islamic (Hijri) calendar is also lunar.

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