Chanukah & Christmas: Back2Back

Chanukah and Christmas being back to back is a mixed blessing. It gives Jewish people a holiday at the same time Christians have their major holiday. Even though our holiday isn’t major, at least we have something. The importance of Chanukah in Jewish life has been elevated because of its proximity to Christmas, even though on a religious level its a relatively minor holiday. The problem is that its sort of like being on a low-fat diet at the same time everyone around you is feasting on your favorite foods. You can rationalize and observe that at least you have something, at the same time you realize it’s not as tasty, sweet or enjoyable as what everyone else is eating.

This year my family and I attended our city’s Chanukah Menorah lighting sponsored by our local Chabad. There were several hundred people in attendance, and it was fun. The mayor and fire chief showed up to greet the gathering, as well as a Jewish policeman. It felt good to be included as part of the community. There was a certain irony however, in that the place of the menorah lighting was adjacent to a lot selling Christmas trees. The guy selling the trees even told us he wasn’t doing any business until we showed up! Talk about the covenant of mutual blessing!

Our problem is not that our holiday is so close to Christmas and looks shabby in comparison, but that all we’ve done is try to compete with the superficial materialistic aspects of Christmas, instead of emphasizing the true spiritual meanings of Chanukah. This is shown in the music of the two holidays. Christmas has the most beautiful music that can lift a soul to the throne of God. They have O Holy Night, and we have Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel. It’s true that we also have Maor O’Tzur, but that’s one spiritual song and many Dreidel type songs or Adam Sandler’s Chanukah songs. Christmas has its less spiritual songs as well, but they have so many more spiritual songs to offset them. One can only sing Maor O’Tzur so many times before it gets old. We really need some soul-stirring Chanukah songs.

We need to emphasize Chanukah is more than the miracle of the Menorah oil lasting for eight days. There are several books of the Maccabees. They are filled with inspirational stories of bravery, and faith. There are stories of victory by God’s hand, protecting and preserving our people. We need to emphasize more of that side of Chanukah. We need to be giving people an encouragement to believe. Let those lights we kindle stand for something besides longer lasting oil.

Chanukah as it really is, is anything but lame. As a child, I grew up hearing about Hannah and her seven sons, who chose horrible deaths rather than abandon the Torah and the Jewish faith. They were held up as examples to us for their bravery and faith. We were told about Mattathias and his sons, the Hashmonim, who were so troubled by the Syrians desecrating our Temple and trying to separate Jews from our Torah way of life that they led a rebellion and prevailed with the help of God. We learned that later, during the Roman occupation, the Dreidels were a subterfuge to trick the Roman soldiers to think Jews were playing a gambling game to cover up the fact that they were studying Torah, which was against the law. Those stories made us proud to be Jews, and encouraged us to value the Torah, and inspired us in our faith.

Chanukah is far more than keeping up with the Christians. Its more than latkes and heartburn. It has a fine and noble meaning. We need to remember those things and embrace what it really stands for. If all we are going to present to our children and the world is that we can be as materialistic as everyone else, its not worth the bother.

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One thought on “Chanukah & Christmas: Back2Back

  1. What a wonderful message!

    As a convert to Judaism, I can more easily appreciate the comments about heritage. Formerly, as a Christian, I had 2,000 years of heritage, a lot of which dealt with the persecution of all those nasty, sneaky Jews that were responsible for all the world’s problems.

    Now as one of those kind, thoughtful, generous, self-sacrificing (I’m still working on some of that) Jews, I have a heritage that goes all the way back to Abraham, and as far as I know it doesn’t include the persecution or harming of anybody at all.

    It does include story after story of our intimate relationship with our G-d, and all the many miracles he has done for our ancestors over the years. Chanukah is the celebration of one of those miracles, but it pales when compared to miracles such as Passover.

    It is also interesting to note that none of our celabrations and none of our High Holy Days are reconstructions of pagan events. Every one is either the commemoration of an actual event, such as Chanukah, or an observance specifically commanded by G-d in Torah.

    I am happy, proud and humbled, to have been accepted into the Jewish people. I agree with you, Rabbi, that we ought to make Chanukah stand on its own, rather than be a “me too” just before Christmas.

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