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It’s the most wonderful time of the year

Posted on October 30, 2017

In just a matter of days we will begins celebrating the holiday of Chanukah.  Known as The Festival of Lights, the Chanukah story retells the Maccabees rebellion during the time of the Greek Empire. If we look back at history at the Greeks, how are they remembered? Were they such a bad people? The Greeks gave us some of the most important philosophical and scientific developments in the history of the world. Where would we be without Aristotle? What would our world look like if we hadn’t had the genius of Pythagoras?

                        Ancient Greece was a civilized and sophisticated culture and yet, with Chanukah, we commemorate the time when we rebelled against this great society. We remember the miracles of the Maccabees, the miracle of the many being delivered into the hands of the few, the wicked being delivered into the hands of the righteous. We commemorate the rebellion of the Maccabees who were fighting against a civilization whose love for beauty and strength was greater than their appreciation of goodness and righteousness.  Imagine that, a society in which wealth and beauty was more important than goodness and acts of loving kindness.

                        I have a confession to make. It is an odd confession for a rabbi to make but I feel that I have to be honest with you and tell you the truth of where my heart lies. The truth is, I love Christmas. I confess; I am a religious Jew and I love Christmas! I do! I love everything about it, I love decorating a tree, I love driving around to look at the Christmas lights and; much to the consternation of my colleagues, I love Christmas carols. I have always loved Christmas carols. I can be found listening to them or signing them wherever I go, whether it’s to a friend’s house to decorate gingerbread houses, in my car when I’m alone or, when was in school, in the beis midrash[1] at my school. For two months I could be found singing the most religious Christmas carols you can find. My favorites are “God rest ye merry gentlemen” and “Oh Holy Night” (the Josh Groban version).  I love the fact that, from the day after Thanksgiving, there are entire radio stations exclusively devoted to the playing of Christmas carols.

                        While I love all of these things, there is one thing that bothers me about this time of year. In every display at every mall or store there is the token Hannukiah, in every concert that I’ve ever gone to they don’t’ call it a Christmas concert, they call it a “holiday” concert and they trot out the token Chanukah song. Let’s be honest, can we be honest for a second? As much as I love my religion and my culture, as much as I love the beautiful songs and liturgy that we have, I don’t think that “I have a little dreidel” or “נר לי” are nearly as good as any song from the Christmas catalog.

                        Since we have become full members of the American society, we have seen a rivalry between Chanukah and Christmas to the point where we feel left out if we don’t have something green and wooded in our living room. To combat this feeling of inadequacy people have come up with something called a “Chanukah bush,” designed to take away any feelings we might have about being left out in this holiday season. I remember an episode of one of my favorite shows, “Friends.” In it, one of the Jewish characters was worried that his son would like Christmas (the holiday that his mother’s family celebrated), more than his father’s celebration of Chanukah. He goes to elaborate lengths to show his son that Chanukah is just as fun as Christmas. One of the things he points to is that you can get gifts on Chanukah also. The truth is, the entire tradition of gift giving on Chanukah is a reaction to the holiday’s proximity to Christmas.

                        As much as I love Christmas, which I clearly do, I don’t feel excluded or marginalized by the fact that I don’t celebrate Christmas. I am Jewish and part of being Jewish means that I have my own holidays.  Part of living in a larger, non Jewish, society means that there are celebrations that I am not a part of.  That said, it is clear that there are some Jewish traditions that have evolved out of living as a Jew in an otherwise Christian county (Chinese food and a movie anyone?).  

                        We are entering the season of Chanukah, a secondary holiday that has been elevated to primary status because of the society in which we live. We have the opportunity to tell our children and ourselves that it is not possessions that define us, it is not material wealth, but it is spiritual wealth that is the true currency. I wish you all a wonderful Chanukah and a happy new year.

[1] Study hall

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