I have a confession. I believed in Santa Claus until I was an age that is older than I would like to admit. I was a late bloomer, and it took me a while to understand that the world is really not a place where a magical man in a white beard hands out gifts to anyone who can prove they have been good. As a girl growing up in a community that only had a handful of Jewish households, it felt like the Christmas holiday is essentially a big party that almost everyone is invited to, except for those among us who do not celebrate.
Here’s the thing: I did not understand how Santa Claus would know that my home was Jewish. We had a nice chimney that Santa could slide down, and it looked like every other chimney in the neighborhood. To the best of my knowledge, it was not topped with a yamaka, although my father had to clear it of bird nests on a regular basis. I would check each Christmas morning to see if just this once, Santa made a mistake and left presents for me. I did not understand how he would know to bypass my chimney. My non-Jewish friends told me that Santa knew everything, so he would just know.
I did not appreciate fully the Jewish tradition that I was born into and the significance of the miracle of the story of Judah Maccabee and how he rededicated the Second Temple and lit a menorah with oil that was sufficient for just one night but lasted for eight. The American Jewish community adopted a custom of giving children eight presents during the holiday – one for each night the menorah in the temple miraculously burned through the night. This was an obvious concession to the children like me who felt left out of the Christmas party, with all its decking the halls and sugar plums and flying reindeer.
In actuality, the eight nights of gift giving was a demonstration of gross consumerism. My non-Jewish friends were jealous that I was the recipient of eight gifts. But in actuality, as every Jewish kid knows, the gifts became smaller and smaller as the eight nights progressed, with socks and candy bars given over the last few nights. But what was lost in the hysteria over presents was the miracle itself. The story of Chanukkah was as great a miracle as the man with the white beard who magically managed to visit every home on his list all around the world on Christmas Eve.
If there was ever a time to believe in miracles, it is this year, with the pandemic in full swing in many communities in the United States. Our lives have been put on pause while we wait upon the miracle of science to deliver a vaccine in a timeframe that would have never previously been imaginable. We wait for Project Warp Speed to go into high gear and somehow like Santa Claus and his flying reindeer deliver the vaccine to every citizen in the world. The greatest miracle this holiday season is one that involves the power of science to save us from the devastating effects of the worst public health crisis of our lifetime. While we wait, it is up to each of us to do our part to keep ourselves and our community safe.
I now know that there is no Santa Claus, and no one is going to magically leave a present on the doorstep of my apartment. But there are the lights of the menorah, which is a reminder that miracles do happen. We need a miracle this year more than ever. And we got one! It resides within each of us.