Posts Tagged 'Christmas'

A Light in the Dark: Thoughts on Hanukkah and Christmas

As I write this, there is a lot of negative energy in the world. There seems a force asking people to draw lines, point out differences, and make more divisions in the world. In this Holiday season I prefer to see through it all and look for the things that connect us.  To this end I find myself looking for what the story of Hanukkah and the story of Christmas have in common.

In the book of Matthew they read:

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him. (Matthew 2:1-2)

Having seem the sign of the star the Magi came from the east looking for baby Jesus. They came because this gave them hope for the future. It is interesting to compare this discovery to the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Chanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Chanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

Looking for holiness in the rubble of the reclaimed Temple, the rebels found one small jar of oil with the seal intact. They took the fact that this oil lasted for eight days as a sign of the holiness of their reclamation of Temple. Like the Magi they saw in this oil hope for the future.

I think about this in the still of the night in the darkest time of the year. It might be hard to relate to this in our modern lives which are filled with light, but can you imagine trying to find something in the dark in a time before electric lights or even before gas lights? It must have really been a needle in a hay stack.

The adage goes, “If you do not know where you going you will never be lost”. It follows from this idea that if you do not know what you are looking for you will never find it. It is tempting in the dark times to grow complacent, but now more than ever we need to do the hard work of discovering and rediscovering hope. In the case of the Magi as in the case of Hashmoneans they both knew what they were looking for even if it was needle in a hay stack. We should all be blessed to know for what we are looking. In these dark times we need to be looking for a sign and we need to be looking out for each other. We all just need to find a light in the dark.

-Reposted from the Canteen

 

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Yuletide Thoughts

There was such hoopla this year with the advent of Thanksgivikkah or Chanksgiving, as we called it. It was a new Faceoff of cultures. It was a welcome break from the usual Christmas versus Chanukkah title match. So instead of dealing with the Tree versus Menorah we were left with Chalikah or Menurkey.

   

But now that all of that is behind us we are left dealing with Christmas empty handed. So instead of arguing for the cultural supremacy I am left just enjoying or enduring Christmas on its own terms. So what do were get out of this holiday?

While I am strangely aware that I am not in the dominant culture, I am also appreciative of the values of the larger culture. So at first blush we have the prevalence of holiday song, great lights, good sales, and a deeply branded color array. While it not our holiday, it is a nice festive contrast to the depth of winter. I could do without the hyper-materialism, You can hear echoes of Purim in our Mishloach Manot. Community is being formed in the elaborate network of gift giving.  And even beyond the gifts there is the larger narrative of generosity.

One other aspect that I enjoy about Christmas is the most overtly pagan in origin Santa Claus. What woud this season be like without the myth of Saint NicholasFather Christmas, or Kris Kringle . Derived from the Dutch figure of Sinterklaas, Santa Claus is generally depicted as a portly, joyous, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots and who carries a bag full of gifts for children in his magical reindeer propelled flying sleigh. Santa Claus has been believed to make a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior. Have they been “naughty” or “nice”? On this merit the children get their yearly gifts. While I realize that it just creates a larger mythology for a deeper materialism, it is nice to educate our children to an idea of merit. This in itself is lost in the comparison to Channukah and its miracles. Maybe a more appropriate comparison is Rosh HaShanah, our day of Judgment. On Rosh Hashanah God “‘opens’ the ‘books’ of judgment” of creation and all mankind starting from each individual person, and in those books it is first “written” what will be decreed, read here naughty or nice.

I realize what I admire in Christmas I love about Jewish camp. There is value in being part of a community that intentionally tries to bring light to darkness and cheer to those who need our generosity. There is power and responsibility of living in the dominant culture ( if only a part of the year). It is just wonderful realizing that your families private values has a place in public and is normative. So we cannot forget the gift of Jewish Summer camp. Have a Gmar Tov– a great end of the year.


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