This week my son and I are celebrating Hanukkah. We make a big deal out of it. We collect menorahs (ever year since he was two we've gotten a new one), we play dreidel, we decorate the house, I make latkes and blintzes, he gets a gift every night and we try to do something special every day of the 8 day holiday.
Most people would say that as Jewish holidays go, Hanukkah is a pretty minor one and the only reason to make a big deal out of it is because you feel the need to compete with Christmas. They would also say that Hanukkah is a celebration of "The miracle of the light." See (as the story goes) back in the day some bad guys destroyed our temple and when we got it back we started to get it together again and inside that temple there was this sacred lamp that only had enough oil left to last 1 day but it was going to take 8 days to make more oil for it and then, miracle of miracles the oil that should have only lasted 1 day lasted for 8. That's why we light a candle on the menorah every night for 8 nights.
There is some truth to all that. Hanukkah isn't close to being a High Holiday and all the fuss about Christmas is...inspiring. But that's not my main motivation for making Hanukkah one of the most important holidays of the year within my household. It's also true that while the Holiday is nicknamed the, "Festival Of Light," that piece of the story is really a very small part of what we're celebrating and when rabbis talk about the holiday they usually only spend a few minutes talking about the oil. The greater message of the holiday is what makes me love it so much. Much like with Passover the overall themes of Hanukkah are as follows:
4) Standing up for what's right
However unlike with the story of Passover there isn't a lot less divine intervention within the story of Hanukkah. This time, God doesn't give a Jewish leader assurances of success or tell him or her what the right thing to do is and yet the heroes of the story do it anyway. In the beginning of the Hanukkah we learn that the Jews were living as a minority group within a society that was completely tolerant of their religion and allowed them to take an active part of public life. And then there was a regime change and the practice of Judaism was outlawed. The Jews fought back and although they were greatly outnumbered they defeated the mighty and seeming superior army of our suppressors. Jews don't celebrate war which I think is why there is so much focus on the lamp but realistically we are celebrating a victory. A victory of right over wrong. The implication of the story is that societies should allow everyone to practice the religion they want to practice assuming it's not physically hurting anyone. We're told that even when we know that the odds are against us we should stand up for that right. And we celebrate the survival of the Jewish people.
I like that. So yes, we go all out for Hanukkah, so much so that I may have one of the few Jewish children who doesn't envy Christmas. But he also understands the message of the holiday and regardless of how religious or secular you are it's hard not to see how Hanukkah is kinda a big deal.
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