By now, for many folks, the Christmas tree has been lassoed to the roof of the car and wrestled into the house for tinsel and lights. The Christmas soundtrack is gloriously out of the closet, no matter where you go.
But not everyone celebrates the Christian aspect of Christmas, and there is more than one holiday observed this time of year.
Hanukkah is the winter holiday for Jews. This year, Hanukkah begins at sunset Dec. 16 and continues thru Dec. 24.
So this year, the “Night before Christmas” will share time and space with all eight candles of a fully lit menorah.
Very different songs of praise and appreciation will be raised up. Hanukkah is not about the arrival of a savior; it is about not succumbing to the pressures of the mainstream.
There are lessons from that for people of all faiths.
The Hanukkah holiday is a commemoration of the re-dedication of the Second Temple after it had been desecrated over years of occupation, around 166 BCE. This temple was the central location of Judaism at the time. The occupiers attempted the eradication Jewish culture and rituals using the temple as Ground Zero. Laws were enacted depriving the Jews of their right to practice their faith.
The systematic oppression continued into medieval Europe and more recent centuries. There were numerous laws that would be called discriminatory by today’s standards. These laws enforced segregation, confining Jews to specific areas of cities, in addition to restricting the trades they were allowed to practice, the education they could give their children and the clothes that could be worn.
To a degree, this segregation enforced over the centuries may have helped the Jews maintain their independent practices and not assimilate into the mainstream culture; however, in 166 BCE, the Jews fought back against their oppressors – and won. After their success, the temple was cleaned and rededicated.
In synagogues, there is an Eternal Light kept burning at all times. However, as the Jews reclaimed their temple, they found only enough holy oil to sustain the Eternal Light for a single day. Yet that light continued to burn for eight days, the time needed to prepare a fresh supply of kosher oil for the lamp.
Hanukkah initially was a simple observance, remembering the past and giving thanks for continued survival. Like all things, it has evolved. We now have our own holiday cards and countless pages of Hanukkah decorations for purchase on the Amazon marketplace.
Yet this holiday is not one of welcoming a savior, nor is it about gift giving. Hanukkah is a moment to celebrate and observe a stiff-necked refusal to be assimilated into the majority culture.
It is about holding steadfast to one’s own beliefs.
It is fitting that Hanukkah is a commemoration involving oil. Oil is something that may be mixed in with other things but does not truly lose its properties and fully blend in. This can be an image for people of all religious faiths.
It is easy to be overrun by popular culture with its overt mockery of religious observance in most forms. There is pressure in so many areas of life to conform to the ideas of majority, whether it be what or how to worship, or how to properly express one’s anger or outrage with injustice. But faith will outlast the tides of popular culture.
Even as the religious foundation of Christmas is surrounded by the noise of advertising, it does not have to overwhelm. Hanukkah, with its celebration of religious independence and its enduring message of resistance against systematic oppression, is an example of this.
This holiday season, and at all times, it is worth the effort to not hide your beliefs and let the light of your faith shine for all to see.