Monday, December 15, 2014

The Importance of Chanukah

Tomorrow is Chanukah. Actually, tomorrow night is. And we are, once again, planning our family celebrations.

From a religious perspective, Chanukah is a minor holiday. There are no commandments governing what we have to do or must not do, other than lighting a menorah.

But just because it’s a minor holiday, doesn’t mean it’s unimportant. Each year, I get into arguments with people over how much weight to give to the holiday. You see, living in a Christian world, Chanukah has taken on significance as a way to give Jewish children something to celebrate as their Christian friends are celebrating Christmas.

Christmas has become commercialized and I think people are concerned that if we put too much significance on Chanukah, it will become commercialized too. They are concerned that by turning Chanukah into a major holiday, we are essentially assimilating and turning it into a “Jewish Christmas.”. Either way, the standard answer I get whenever the subject comes up is that Chanukah is not a big deal.

Here’s my problem. I don’t think it’s necessary to compare the two holidays and I don’t need to turn it into a big deal. I don’t think things have to be fair—just because one religion celebrates something at a certain time of year, I don’t believe it’s necessary for another religion to have something to celebrate at the same time. For the record, I don’t think things between my two kids have to be equal all the time either and I certainly don’t compare my kids to each other and force them to do the same as their sibling.

But I do believe that each holiday should be celebrated and I don’t believe that we should be teaching that a holiday is not important. When holidays become unimportant, they stop being celebrated. Once one holiday is not celebrated, other holidays stop being celebrated as well. That can lead down a slippery slope of not celebrating one’s religion, of not recognizing the importance in one’s religion, of not taking pride in who you are. And that would be a shame.

Sure, Chanukah is a holiday that emphasizes and celebrates our children. We give children presents, we play dreidel games with them and we sing mostly children’s Chanukah songs. But it can be more than that without inflating the holiday unnecessarily or turning it into a materialistic free for all. It can be a time to share with one’s family. My husband and I can pull out the menorah we received as a wedding gift and think about how wonderful our life has been as we light the candles on that particular menorah. We can find ways to rededicate ourselves to each other and to our family, just as the Jews rededicated the temple. It offers us a chance to talk about why we celebrate our holidays the way we do and provides the opportunity to show our children the beauty that can be found during Chanukah.

When I refuse to attend a meeting during Chanukah, or insist on decorating my house, it’s not because I want to make Chanukah more than it is. It’s because my religion is important to me and I want to celebrate it and Chanukah is just one more way of being able to do that.

And people who prevent me from celebrating the holiday make it that much harder for me to celebrate my religion, regardless of the religious importance of the holiday.

1 comment:

  1. As a child, it was always about the family radition, rather than the gift-giving. We got small, insignificant gfts that my mom likely would have had to buy anyway. New slippers, PJs, calendars, etc.

    We have always done the same. It includes a retelling of the Hanukkah story - and we still read it out of the Rugrats book :) Family traditions and all :) Lighting the menorah, and fighting over who gets to light it & lead the prayer that night...

    The kids invite their friends over one night for latkes (there are no Jews in our town, so their friends look forward to this every year - it's novel).

    Plain old family time. But it's tough in this commercialized world.