This evening marks the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in the second century B.C. In a somewhat rare confluence of the Hebrew and Gregorian calendars, the first night of the eight-day Jewish holiday occurs on Christmas Eve this year. Mine is one of those fortunate families that celebrates both holidays, and while neither my wife nor I pretend to be experts on the matter, I thought that since both holidays will be celebrated within 24 hours of each other this year, it would be appropriate to share some thoughts on how we’re able to make these holidays work for us.
- Don’t try to meld the two holidays. While both Hanukkah and Christmas in the modern era celebrate events that have only a nominal relationship to history, they have distinctly different messages. And yes, we can argue about that message for each holiday, but attempts to conflate the two celebrations have always seemed shallow and unsatisfying, to my wife as well as myself. On the eight nights of Hannukah, we light the candles and say the blessings; on Christmas, we play music celebrating the birth of Jesus. We both take immense satisfaction with each.
- You can be religious without being exclusionary. You don’t have to be Jewish in order to appreciate the story of Judah Maccabeh’s rebellion against religious oppression, or Christian to admire the aspirations for peace on earth and goodwill towards humanity. Never be afraid to express what the holiday mean to you, or be so stubborn to believe that your partner, your children, or other family members or friends could possibly derive another meaning.
- It’s all about family. The holidays are a time for families to come together. Those gatherings can be bittersweet and even hostile at times — but even at their worst, the holidays serve as a bond for keeping the family together. For some, the holidays serve as nothing more than an excuse for mass consumption and consumerism, but if that’s what keeps the family together, well then, guess there’s nothing wrong with that. When it comes to celebrating any holiday, do what works best for your family.
These are the thoughts that have allowed my wife and I to enjoy both holidays for over two decades. We see both as occassions to celebrate life, to raise a toast of l’chaim. We’ve never valued one over the other, never made sacrifices or accommodations for either holiday. And this year, we look forward to being able to celebrate both holidays at the same time.