There are always a great many articles and stories in the international media about Chanukah this time of year. CNN is running a series about shared family celebrations where both Chanukah and Christmas are celebrated jointly. Fox News likens the possibility for the U.S. governments resolution of the fiscal cliff crisis to a Chanukah miracle. The BBC has a personal account of “What Chanukah Means to me.” Of course, Al Jazeera has nothing on the topic. And, the New York Times ran a wonderfully articulate Op Ed piece on Chanukah http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/08/opinion/hanukkah-unabridged.html?_r=0 that accurately explains the holiday and its true meaning as a minor holiday unfortunately wrapped in the overtones of the Christmas season. Chanukah is about hope, independence, overcoming the obstacles of oppression and perhaps most importantly, Chanukah is about religious freedom and tolerance and the need to fight for them when necessary. It is not about gift giving or decking the halls or overweight bearded men in red suits dropping in via the chimney.
I was speaking with a professor of religion who explained that all of the winter festivals focus on themes of lights because in the earliest of times our forefathers had much difficulty tolerating the shortened winter days. The light that came from fire not only warmed them but also allowed them to recall brighter days and look forward to the coming of a new season of longer, sunnier days. Chanukah, whose origins are explained in the Book of Maccabees and the Talmud, is not a pagan holiday though the candles may have some prehistoric link to that theme. Chanukah is about the battle cry of the Maccabees “Mi chamocha ba’elim Hashem.” an eternal rallying to the ideal of the monotheistic religion and the freedom to worship.
People are programmed to feel a need to be both part of a group and to have a strong religious belief. Even atheists are believers in their atheism. So it is not unexpected that for most people a connection between beliefs and the pressures of their society makes for some interesting blends and outcomes. The house that is all lit up for Christmas sits beside the house that has a series of blue lights in the shape of Magan Davids strung across the roof with a large plastic menorah in the front window is an increasingly common site in some parts of the world. I find it somewhat disconcerting though when I see that but I can hear the argument that there is something to be said for Jewish people being proud of their religion, albeit in non-Jewish fashion. I am also a sucker for beautiful lights.
What I find truly bewildering are some of the other customs that in recent years have become linked with Chanukah; so many of which have popped up on Facebook in the last few days. Many Catholic individuals send out Seasons Greetings cards with pictures of their families. On my Facebook page today I came across seven such pictures of Jewish families. Some of them are of families that are clearly Haredi, posed in front of a decorated staircase or fireplace. The decorations are menorahs and stars and a good amount of silvery streamers – reminds me of something other then Chanukah.
Then there are the listings off to the right side of my Facebook page. After the announcement of whose birthday is today and which people I may know to link with are the “sponsored” announcements or ads. This morning there were two ads off to the side for Chanukah gift giving. I just checked, they have been removed. But wait, here is another Haredi looking family standing in front of what looks like a five foot high silver menorah all dressed in matching black and white, smiling broadly, with a caption that reads “Happy Hanukah to all.” There is another one just below – a couple opening their Chanukah gifts beneath the light of their menorah. Somehow I am getting the feeling that a white bearded man in a black, not red, suit may just drop by tonight to deliver something nice. (Don’t worry the meshulachim came around yesterday.) After all, don’t we all deserve a little cheer, some Chanukah gelt?