Lessons in Memory of my brother Dale Alan Konigsburg
December 1, 2003
Number 5764-9 Hanukkah I: The Holiday Season
As the Thanksgiving holiday draws to a close, our Christian neighbors begin to put up their decorations in preparation for Christmas. For some Jews, this is a time of difficult decisions. Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday that comes at the midwinter time of year. It is many things on the Jewish calendar, but “the Jewish Christmas” it is NOT. The irony is that Hanukkah represents the first known fight for freedom of Religion. The Maccabees fought for the right to worship as they please. Mattathias and his sons defeated the forces of Hellenism in ancient Israel. The Hellenists were Jews who practiced the customs of the ancient Greeks. Today’s Jews imitate the practices of their Christian neighbors. It is not good for Judaism, and not good for Jewish-Christian relations either.
My Christian colleagues themselves work all month to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” This should be a reminder to the Jewish community that for all it’s “secularism”, Christmas is a Christian holiday and is for Christians. If we are offended by a Christian who pretends to be Jewish, who could blame a Christian for being offended when a Jew co-opts their rituals. Here are some do’s and don’ts for getting through the holiday season.
Don’t put any Christmas lights on your home at this time of year. Even if they are blue and white or say “Happy Hanukkah”. It is not in keeping with Judaism, and is offensive to Christians. Don’t put up a fir tree in your home with or without lights. Jews celebrate trees in February on Tu b’Shevat and we decorate our homes in October on Sukkot. Families where one of the parents is a Jew by Choice should only have Hanukkah in their home even if there are grandparents who celebrate Christmas. Do take your children to see holiday light displays in your neighborhood or in the many parks and carnivals that dot the county. It is a good time to talk to Jewish children about knowing what other faiths are all about and answering their questions as to why there are so many lights. If you don’t know the answer to their questions, why not invite a Christian neighbor, or their children to explain the meaning of the holiday, or ask your Rabbi for resources and recommendations.
Do share the holiday season with non-Jewish friends. Do wish them a Merry Christmas. Do send them holiday cards (non- religious cards only). Do have a holiday party for your non-Jewish employees but make sure that it recognizes all the different traditions celebrated by those in your business. Don’t sponsor a Christmas Party for business associates or vendors. Your party should be in honor of Hanukkah. Do drop in on Christmas parties sponsored by Christian vendors or business associates when you are invited.
Do invite non-Jewish friends over to your home when you light your Hanukkia (Hanukkah menorah). Be prepared to answer their questions about the holiday. Do give gifts to your children (it is a custom that actually predates Christmas) but Don’t feel the need to buy expensive gifts for all eight days of the holiday. Hanukkah is a fun holiday, don’t burden yourself with crippling debt to keep up with some department stores idea of how the holiday should be celebrated. Don’t visit Christian friends on Christmas day. It is a very private, family oriented holiday. Children should wait until their Christian friends come outside to play and not knock on the door to see what their friends got. Plan on spending Dec. 25 with some family time of your own, take in a movie or go out to eat (The Kosher restaurants are all open) or spend the day filling in at the soup kitchen or homeless shelter so the Christian volunteers can be home with their families. Many Synagogues sponsor programs or concerts on that day for you to take advantage of while the rest of the country shuts down. Do remember to thank G-d that we live in a country that has a long history of religious tolerance. Let this be a season of Joy for everyone, Jew, Christian and those of every other faith. If we can make it work in our own communities, than perhaps it bodes well for “peace on Earth” someday.
Next week: Hanukkah II: Hanukkah Halacha