When I was a kid (back in the 50’s and 60’s) the United States was a more unabashedly Christian country. Christmas was universally celebrated and “Merry Christmas” was on almost everybody’s lips. Nobody was saying “Happy Holidays” in an effort to be all inclusive. As a Jewish kid, I’ve got to say, I wasn’t particularly offended or confused by the emphasis. I was in a kids’ choir and loved singing those gorgeous carols. The lights were magical!
I particularly loved the general good feeling that shone through the holiday – probably best reflected in the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The magic of that time was all about open-heartedness, kindness and gratitude. Santa was most definitely a bonus and I was, indeed, one of those acculturated Jewish kids who believed in the jolly old man whose elves made toys for kids somewhere in the North Pole. I recently reviewed the many Jewish holidays to see if any one of them so explicitly trumpets goodwill to all men in quite the same way and was unable to find one. The many holidays honor parts of our history, the seasons, the beginning of the annual cycle of reading the Torah and, of course the High Holy Days in which we are urged to look deep inside and cleanse our souls, seek forgiveness and turn the page for a coming year. One theme for almost all Jewish holidays I heard from a friend a few years ago, which is perfect, goes, “They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat!” Hanukkah is a very minor Jewish holiday and commemorates a time, more than 2,000 years ago in which the Jewish people were at risk of being absorbed into a hostile dominant culture. A band of rebels were able to wrest away their people’s freedom. It’s pretty much the same theme as the more major celebrations of Purim and Passover. Somehow, American Jews long ago converted this into a more significant celebration so their kids didn’t have to feel left out in all the Christmas gift-giving…but Hanukkah is not Christmas.
I think of the “Holidays” as bounded by Thanksgiving and Christmas – both times when we gather with those we love (and who love us) and breathe in the warmth of care and community. For those of us who feel isolated and adrift during this time, my hope and prayer for you is that you can, step-by-step, heal, renew or create the bonds that may allow you to experience that care in the years ahead. My hope is also that you find some way to give to others during this time. You will enter the tide of humanity whose spirits join in loving-kindness and there is no better gift you can be given. There are volunteer opportunities here.
My wish for anyone reading this is that your world is blessed with the comfort of another’s loving heart, that you treat yourself and those around you with the gentleness reserved for a baby (which this holiday is about) and hatred, fear and violence be banished from our lives.