December 12, 2009

Happy Chanukah!

Tonight is the second night of Chanukah. It's really a minor Jewish festival, nowhere near as important as Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot or Shavu'ot. Shabbat, which we celebrate every week, is most important.

And yet Chanukah, the Jewish winter solstice festival, has taken on supreme importance in America only because it falls close to Christmas.

In our house, where there are no children to worry about comparing our holiday to a Christian holiday, Chanukah has limited scope. We light the Chanukah menorah every night. I make foods cooked with oil to remember the miracle of the oil lamp. We gather with friends on one or two of the evenings. But we don't exchange gifts and we don't set up decorations.

Instead I prefer to remember that Chanukah recalls the persecution of a minority group by the majority culture on religious grounds. Antiochus and his Hellenistic government harassed the Jews for their religious practices and desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews, under the Hasmonean leaders (Judah the "Hammer" Maccabee), fought back and were able to restore their right to worship as they please. They rededicated the Temple, hence the miracle of the lights and our custom of lighting a candelabra.

This is a more significant message for Americans to remember: that in a free country, all should be able to worship freely. So whether you celebrate Chanukah or Christmas, Diwali or Kwanzaa, in the spirit of America's founding fathers, who promised freedom of religion to all, please remember that the person you wish a merry Xmas to may not celebrate the same holiday.


  1. mmmmmm not sure about this one. Britain is a Christian country and yet our religeon is being ignored for the sake of others.I do not agree with arguments, persecution, war on the grounds of religeon. You should be able to worship in the way you wish. I am a Christian but I have my own personal views on it and I do not agree with church - I have had so many bad experiences with the church, it could have disillusioned me but I decided to follow my heart.

  2. No matter what the greeting is, I say we take it in the spirit that it was offered. If you ever called out, 'Happy Chanukah!' to me, I would, with the same joy in my heart, call back to you, 'Merry Christmas!' Freedom of religion means just that. All of us, free to sing out our greetings to one another, no matter what holiday we celebrate. And in the spirit of our founding fathers, I say to you Jill, I have enjoyed reading about your celebrations, and your faith, and your beliefs. I thank you for your greeting.