Dear C and Dr. B;
It’s the holidays and at our house, it’s a bit of a bipolar affair. My dad is Jewish and my mom Catholic, which makes us a Chrismukkah or Festivus kind of family. My dad says both ways are derivative of winter solstice. But I know that Hanukkah deals with freedom of religion from Greek assimilation and is based on the miracle of one day’s worth of oil lasting for eight days. I know Christmas is about Jesus’s birthday and it was moved to coincide with the winter solstice. I know both of these holidays have been commercialized into competing with glitter and presents. But none of this really resonates with me. Isn’t there some deeper meaning in both?
There’s a lot more to it than you’ve mentioned, and each holiday has a very different focus.
Christmas is about the perfect day, like a Hallmark card. It’s a day that represents what all days could aspire to and what all days should be compared too. This is why people feel such pressure at Christmas. The elf on the shelf and Santa’s “good” list are designed to make sure we stay in line and behave better than ourselves. It’s a day of giving and charity, a day to shine, tolerate, and be kind to our families and all those around us.
Hanukkah, on the other hand, tells a complex story. In commemorating the war between the tiny Maccabees army and the powerful Greeks, a lesson is taught about the power of the small, and about the one igniting and becoming the many. The menorah represents the miracle that One is much more than one, where literally one day of oil lasts for eight days. This metaphor is symbolized in the 8 candle menorah where there is another special ninth candle called the shammash, or servant candle, which lights the other candles.This one candle lights another each day until all are burning. Thus, each day, darkness is further defeated, far more than it would be by one candle alone. The menorahs are meant to be shown in the windows of each house in the community to increase solidarity and make the community stronger and brighter than any one individual.
One thing both holidays have in common – the food is great!
C says: If you look into world cultures, there’s a number of religions and countries that have different celebrations around Christmas time – Kwanzaa (Africa) and St. Lucia Day (Sweden) come to mind. They all have one thing in common – they honor tradition carried down through the ages, they place emphasis on family and close connections, and they all call for special foods, decorations, and gifts. We’ve commercialized the living crap out of all of them because this is a capitalistic world, and where there is money to be made, people will lunge after it…but the sentiments are still really in the right place. We all are kinder and more loving in December because of it.
I will never forget one Christmas Eve when I traveled by bus to Logan airport in Boston and waited through seven hours of delays only to have my flight home to Buffalo cancelled due to snow. By the time I returned to Providence, it was late. I made a run from the Greyhound bus stop with my gift laden suitcase banging my knees all the way, and stumbled into Kennedy Plaza only to see the last bus of the night pulling away. I was so overwhelmed that I sat down on my suitcase and wept. I opened my eyes when bright lights hit them — it was the departing bus, come back for me. Passengers in the back had seen my plight and asked the driver to turn around. The driver gave me a ride to my doorstep and a kind soul even paid my fare. No one knew me from a hole in the ground and they were probably exhausted and wanted to get home, yet they all had the same thought – “Someone needs help. Let’s help!” I will never forget it.
So, whatever holiday you celebrate, remember the words of the Dalai Lama and take them forward into the coming year: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”