December 22, 2008
I'd like to start by wishing all of my Jewish visitors a Chanukah Sameach, a happy, joyous Chanukah. May the lights of the Chanukiah, the eight branched candelabra, bring some very special light into your life - and the lives of your families.
Can one think of the light emanating from a Chanukiah as being a "Jewish light"? It's definitely not the same type as the one you find glistening off a Christmas tree.
Don't misunderstand me. I don't have a problem with people buying trees. I don't have an issue at all if my fellow Gentile inhabitants of our little planet want to celebrate the birth of Christ. It's their right, nay duty to do so and merrily on may they continue.
Where I start to get nervous is when my Hebraic brethren start to do so as well. What's all the more worrying, particularly at this juncture of the season, is when they start to view Chanukah as being the Jewish Christmas.
Now I'm not talking about Jews buying Christmas trees, which is about as logical as a vegetarian tucking into an overstuffed turkey, but explaining, between mouthfuls that he is a "proud veggie". I'm also not referring to the morons who buy Chanukah bushes - which is an oxymoron if ever there was one.
I'm referring to the Jews who think of Chanukah as being a Jewish Christmas. It's about as ridiculous as a Christian sticking a menorah on top of his tree instead of a star! If only it were that easy to categorize.
I've seen it with my own kids and with many others. They now see Chanukah more for the presents they receive than for the important festival it happens to be. What's more, I'd guarantee that most Christian kids feel exactly the same way about their festival. "Sod Jesus, I want a Wii" being a common thought amongst many.
Let's make this clear. Chanukah is Chanukah and Christmas is, well, Christmas. Never the twain should meet. Yes, we give presents as Chanukah because deep down, we don't want our kids to feel they are missing out on Christmas, but what have we really achieved in doing this to our kids?
If only it were as easy to stop the tradition of giving gifts on Chanukah? Would that mean an overnight cessation in the Jewish media ramming the Chanukah gifts market down our throat? Everywhere you go, it's there - "Win gifts for every day of the festival", "Special deals on this and that" etc. We have become prisoners of our weak desire to emulate Christmas.
Chanukah as a festival is a totally different entity to Christmas. It is not about the birth of the son of G-d, but about a battle for Jews to regain our religion from those who wished to rip if from us. It is about the power of Jewish unity rallying against the mighty Greek-Syrian army and recovering the Temple. In short, it is about fighting assimilation, a battle that we are still engaged in, long after that jar of oil gave up its precious cargo.
I know that I sound like that voice in the dark, or the flickering candle that lights up a cold, December night, but I know that tonight, a second light, a second voice will join my cause. I try to teach my children what Chanukah is really about but I wonder if they are really listening as their eyes get fixated on the wrapped item, sitting tantalizingly in the plastic bag.
In our house, the lights of the Chanukiah flicker with the pride of the Maccabees. I hope that my grandchildren witness the same light, somewhat untainted by the reflection of the Christmas trees glistening in the houses that surround us.
Maybe living in Israel is the only way to ensure this purity remains.
Happy Chanukah everyone.