Who can forget December in New York?
I recall it from as early as I can remember. Christmas was all over the place. Jingles on every radio station. Christmas trees decorated from the tacky to the fantabulous. There were flashing lights of every color strewn about, flying reindeer, green elves and a jolly Santa, resembling the grandfather any child would die for! Most Jewish children I knew had Christmas envy, whether they admitted it or not, and I was one of them.
I remember the stark contrast to my Chanukah experience. No outside decorations, no tree, no Santa, no bright lights. My siblings and I would gather around my father and watch him as he slowly poured olive oil into our chanukiah and then carefully placed the wick inside. He would recite the ancient blessings and light. We sang maoz tzur together, gazing at the small light, mesmerized by the flames that are not intended to be used for any other purpose than simply being seen.There was a sense of holiness that was palpable and I would linger an extra moment before turning away from the window, where our chanukiah proudly stood.
My mother made Latkes and we would spin our new dreidels in fierce competition with each other, betting on loose change or chocolate coins. Every year my mother made a delightful family party that we all looked forward to. My father was against buying presents. He would explain that it was not our custom and gave us Chanukah gelt instead.
When inside my home on Chanukah I felt a love and warmth that was wonderful, yet every venture into the outside world made me feel cheated out of the Christmas extravaganza. Many homes would boast of bright flashy decorations and everywhere I went I was bombarded with glittery, glitzy reminders of what I was sure to be missing.
As the years progressed and I attained a deeper understanding of Judaism, I slowly felt less and less shortchanged. I understand now that a Jew is just like the chanukiah in our homes.There is a small light that exists within. It’s housed in the body. Each one of us is called upon to ignite it and allow it’s light to shine through our eyes, the windows of the soul. We are not about glitzy externals and fanfare. We do not take outdoor trees or artificial lights from external sources and bring them into our homes, rather we are to make our own light and send it out into the world. For eight days, as it gets dark outside, we are commanded to bring light into the world. We are taught that every bit of light counts and goes a long way and that the beauty of the candle light is that it is a source will never diminish by giving.This is the lesson that is meant to enter the Jewish psyche. When times are dark and cold, search within, find the light and share with others.
For those who celebrate Christmas with joy, meaning and excitement, I wish them good tidings. I, however, am not jealous anymore. I am proud and feel blessed and hope to be able to bring my little bit of light to help ignite our world with goodness. May the day come soon when all faiths can respect one another and live in peace and harmony.