New York Times published an opinion piece about how Jews celebrate Hanukkah these days. Basically it says that in our effort to join in with the merriment and commercialism of the Christmas season we have forgotten the true meaning of the holiday.
The article made me literally giggle with delight because in publishing it the New York Times has just made Hanukkah more like Christmas than it ever has been before.
See, when I was a kid the argument you always heard about Christmas was that the holiday was becoming too commercialized. Children thought it was about Santa Claus and not Christ! People were more interested in decorating trees and giving gifts than worshiping! Where I lived a lot of people didn't even know what Hanukkah was. The only place you could buy a Hanukkah themed anything was at the synagogue. There was no risk of Hanukkah being commercialized, the fight was just to get the holiday acknowledged.
It took another fifteen years before the whole conversation was switched up. In the early years of this millennium Fox News declared there was a war on Christmas. NOT because the holiday was being commercialized but because it wasn't being commercialized enough! How dare companies like Walmart and Macy's not put the words "Merry Christmas" on their banners to attract their customers to their commercial goods! Everybody should be saying Merry Christmas no matter what you believe, because really, saying Merry Christmas is just a way of expressing the spirit of the holiday...which apparently has little to do with religion these days. A little over a week ago Bill O'Reilly went so far as to suggest that Christianity wasn't a religion at all, but simply a philosophy that doesn't even require you to believe that Jesus is the son of God. Therefore Christmas celebrations should be fully embraced by stores, schools and public parks, not in an attempt to spread the true meaning of Christmas but because apparently the true meaning of Christmas has completely changed. Yes, some might look at a nativity scene and see the birth of God but other's might just put up a nativity scene because we want to celebrate the birth of a really nice guy.
|The Daily Show with Jon Stewart||Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c|
|The War on Christmas: Friendly Fire Edition - Bill O'Reilly's Philosophy|
And now, Hanukkah (always playing catch up) is having the argument that Christians were having about Christmas back in the 20th century. We're losing the meaning of the holiday! We're making it about gifts and joy and fun rather than military victories that led (briefly) to religious freedom!
Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. The thing is, even the most liberal and secular observances of Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashanah and Passover keep their main focus on the original meaning of the holiday. Even the non-religious Passover seders that proclaim a rejection of the idea that Exodus is the accounting of a real event STILL spend most of the seder talking about the symbolism of the story of Exodus. There is no Passover Bunny. No one has asked Walmart to hang banners in September saying Happy Rosh Hashanah! Buy your Apple-And-Honey-themed products here! Hanukkah is the only holiday that the Jewish community has decided to commercialize a little. And yes, it's undeniable that some of that has occurred in an effort to help our children value this Jewish holiday in the face of the Christmas onslaught.
But then again, maybe that doesn't signal as much of a change in the meaning of the holiday as some suppose. Because, to quote Cantor Ari Priven--
Hanukkah has always been a celebration of Judaism in the midst of pressure to let go of Jewish uniqueness.
So if putting a forty foot menorah next to a ninety foot christmas tree does that then Dayenu, let that be enough for us. We've honored the holiday perfectly.
Hanny Hanukkah! However you choose to celebrate it, I hope you have a wonderful season of light!
Bestselling Author of:
And the upcoming
JUST ONE NIGHT erotic fiction trilogy