It’s 6 days until Chanukah and every time I count down in my head I hear the twelve days of Christmas song playing in my head. It’s an unfortunate relic of growing up in a society where jingles are played in every shop and street corner. It’s an inescapable and somewhat forced religious holiday in a society that isn’t at all religious.
In the Australian society there’s no such thing as Chrismukkah. It’s Christmas or its the ‘everybody else’ minority who, purely for political correctness, are told ‘seasons greetings’. I personally never understood that greeting because I’m sure many religions around the world don’t have any special season now that they need to be greeted with. For me the 25th of December has absolutely no significance, and it doesn’t need to. I grew up here clearly knowing that I’m different, I don’t belong to these festivities and the gift giving that happens has nothing to do with Judaism. There was nothing to get sucked into. The green and red represented foreignness and in a way pushed me to connect to my Jewishness.
Having just returned from New York where Christmas trees are displayed right next to Chanukkias and stories about Santa are sold next to stories about the Maccabees, I was really struck by this equality. It seemed at first glance that we as Jews have ‘made it’, we’re now ‘recognised’. Then I returned back to Australia and with no Jewish symbolism in sight really got some perspective.
America has the highest rate of intermarriage. It’s all about equality, not standing out, trying to teach our kids that they and us are really the same just with a slightly different history. The rate of intermarriage and our attitudes aren’t a coincidence, they’re a consequence. When we start competing with presents and taking on ‘their’ ideas, its not just easier or cheaper to do, it transforms our families and makes us weaker as Jews.
Why are we so apologetic and unimpressed with the deep and very real power of our own festivities? Chanukah is such a powerful Yom Tov. Have you actually looked deep into the story? It’s all about the power of the human spirit to excel, to go beyond human limitation, and in so doing bring Hashem’s miracles forward and see immense light and triumph in times of complete darkness. Why do we reduce ourselves to aligning with a commercially invented fat man in a red suite and flying reindeers? Seriously! On Chanukah we give our children money, Chanukah gelt, because it has meaning and connects to the story of who we are as a nation, a people. We don’t need electric lights on our tree, we have the natural beauty of oil candles that burn in the windows of our homes to teach the world and scream out: “I am Jewish and proud of it!” This response is not a forced separation just to stop intermarriage. It’s a natural outpouring of connection with our own heritage and people which occurs automatically once we understand what we truly possess.
So stop feeling guilty and think about the wealth you have in your own history. A real history with real heroes to inspire our kids. Spend every night of Chanukah around the candles, sing and speak of the meaning behind Chanukah. Show your kids the beauty and pride and then the separation comes naturally. We are Jews. We don’t need to blend in. We need to be the light onto the nations.