Honoring Others' Holidays is America's Way



This year Hanukah and Christmas are celebrated at the same time.
  Hanukah begins Tuesday night and Christmas the following Sunday.  With the convergence of the two religious holidays, celebrated by millions, there must be a message for us.


How does a rabbi, the Jewish educator, deal with the holiday season?  I believe it is best to know the meaning of both holidays and find similarities and reasons for rejoicing.  That message is to bring the light of spirituality and freedom into the world.  It really doesn’t matter what religious holiday you are celebrating as long as you get the message.


The first holiday, Hanukah, took place in Israel in 165 BC, many years before the birth of Jesus.  Jewish fighters, called Maccabees, rebelled against the Greek oppressors of their religious rights.  When freedom was obtained, a Menorah (candelabra) was lit.  Miraculously, the Menorah’s light burned for a continuous eight days, never replenishing its source of oil.


This story is celebrated by lighting the Menorah candles for eight days, reminding us of the miracle and victory, confirming faith and hope.  Jews world over celebrate this event with public Menorah lightings, festivities and exchanging gifts.  This holiday proclaims a universal message of religious freedom for all people.


Christmas, the holiday marking the birth of Jesus, is highlighted by family get-togethers, prayers, festivities, exchanging gifts and general holiday cheer.


Jewish and Christian faiths recognize the need for religion in a chaotic world.  It can be said that for those who have religion, there are no questions, and for those with no religion, there are no answers.  Religion brings a magical serenity for those who practice. 

In my community, I have a day care and school.  Children are taught the importance of religions and the need for people to identify with religious objects and symbols.  They are taught that there are “Hanukah people” and “Christmas people”, and many belong to one or the other.  When the holidays come around, you feel respectful of each other’s religion.  Some of my neighbors send me holiday cards marking their holidays, and I reciprocate with my holiday cards and invitations.


Our great country, America, is a melting pot where our differences or prejudices melt away.  Here, our children love the holidays, each practicing their own while respecting others.


With the holiday season celebrated by both religions, we pray that citizens of the world will be attracted to the light of religious tolerance and democracy.  During the holiday, think of our men and women fighting overseas bringing freedom and light to the world.  Let’s hope they come home soon to their families.


Once, when passing by a Nativity scene, my 6-year-old said, “Look at the people, they must be Maccabees”, meaning Jewish warriors.  I told him they were not Maccabees but that they were part of the holiday celebrations of our country.


“That’s cool,” was his reply. 


Cool it is indeed when we honor each other’s holidays.


A happy holiday to you all.