Some time ago, my husband and I decided that we were going to introduce our children to Jewish culture by recognizing Jewish holidays in small ways. Not huge celebrations, but enough that they gain an understanding of Jewish culture and beliefs. My husband’s ancestors are Jewish (just one generation removed), and we want our children to have an understanding of where they come from. We’ll do the same for other lines of lineage as well, but that is not the point here.
The point is that we are celebrating Hanukkah by lighting the menorah each night at sunset, along with reciting the appropriate blessings. Then we eat some chocolate. There has been some dreidel playing. We’re gonna make latkes at some point. It is all very simple because our children are very young.
But it has been wonderful. And it has me thinking about the holiday season and the contention some people seem to feel when it comes to season greetings. I’ve never been offended by any manner of polite salutation, least of all “Happy Holidays,” which I find quite cheery. But there are many who pay undue attention to whether we address Hanukkah or Christmas or neither. There is a lot of discussion of decorations, and whether we can have Christmas trees or menorahs or any other expression of faith on display. There is apparently some kind of War on Christmas. Not a very successful one, I’d gather, since Christmas still has a massive presence this time of year. (Which I’m not complaining about. I am no Grinch, and love every minute of it.)
A couple of days ago I decided that people would be less offended by sharing the holiday season if they had an understanding of what the other holidays are about. I decided this because I was explaining to my small children that when the Jews regained and rededicated their temple (I left out much about the occupation and the Maccabees, keeping it simple for now), they only had enough oil to light the temple for one night. But God, in tender mercy, granted that the oil last for 8 nights. It was a miracle. As I explained this Jewish belief to my children, I felt the Spirit. And I acknowledge that I too believe in a God of miracles. And albeit that Hanukkah is a fairly minor holiday that has gotten a lot more attention because of its proximity to Christmas, I think it is the perfect accompaniment to it. For, as Christians, do we not believe that Christ is the light of world? The celebration of the Festival of Lights ought to remind us of the miracle and grace of the Atonement as well. Just like the oil that provided more flame than it should have, my Savior’s sacrifice keeps me going when I would otherwise falter. Obviously, my Jewish friends don’t see the same symbolism in the holiday that I do. But, my point here is that we shouldn’t be focusing so much on those differences. Perhaps since they don’t celebrate Christmas for the reason I do, Jews can take the opportunity to rejoice in a God who saves us from ourselves, even if they don’t believe Jesus is the Savior that does so.
Why should I be offended by the display of a menorah next to a Christmas tree? Can I just choose, instead, to rejoice with my Jewish friends in a God of miracles, in which we both believe? This time of year is a wonderful opportunity to unite with others who believe in a God who loves and care for us. Instead of bickering over the appropriate way to decorate for it, lets be inclusive in our celebrations and increase our reasons to feel the joy.