Last night I went to a Hanukkah celebration, the first I’ve ever been to. Far from being just “the Jewish Christmas,” Hanukkah, of which tonight is the fifth night, is a deeply meaningful tradition celebrating not only a historical event–the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century C.E.–but also the endurance and cohesion of the Jewish faith and society against often impossible odds throughout the centuries. I was reminded of this today in a session of the weekly class I’m taking as part of my conversion to Judaism, in which we discussed what some people refer to as the “December dilemma”–how to maintain a Jewish identity and celebrate Hanukkah, especially in families with children, amidst the overwhelming cultural currency, at least in the United States, of Christmas and its various incarnations whether religious or secular.
I love Christmas as a secular holiday. There’s a Christmas tree in my house, for the month of December I have a Santa hat on in my Twitter avatar, and I’ve done some Christmas-themed posts on this blog (and will be doing another one tomorrow). One can certainly quibble about the commercialization of the holiday, “giftmas” as some people refer to it, but it’s a time to come together with family and loved ones, regardless of your faith, and that’s something to be celebrated. But, despite the ubiquity of Christmas and Christmas-themed imagery, Hanukkah reminds us that there are many other traditions out there in the word, many of them very old and sacred, and if we choose to honor one that is not from the “majority” background, we should be proud of that choice and celebrate it all the more.
So I wish a happy Hanukkah to all my friends and readers, whether they are Jewish or something else. Shalom.