I do hope that you kept my last article and have reread it before starting this one. If not, I am sure your memory will serve you that we talked about the postage stamps that commemorate the various holidays that are celebrated by various cultures, religions, and nationalities during this time of year. I’d like you to remember the various symbols associated with Kwanzaa and the Arabic holidays. Moving on ...
“The U.S. Postal Service unveiled a new series of “Holiday Celebration” stamps in 1996 with the debut of the first stamp commemorating the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. The Chanukah stamp is the first U.S. stamp to recognize a Jewish holiday. Jointly issued with Israel, both countries feature the same design. The U.S. version contains the English spelling of “Hanukkah” and the Israeli stamp features the Hebrew spelling.
Last Thursday evening, I treated some friends to a semi-traditional Chanukah celebration. The Menorah or candle holder was lit; there was Chanukah gelt (pieces of chocolate money) on the tables, and we ate several traditional foods including potato pancakes cooked in oil. I hope they enjoyed the experience.
Many of you know my family personally but you may not know that I am practicing Jew, my wife, son and his family are devout Catholics, and my daughter although raised with the knowledge of both religions, has for over a decade, followed the teachings of Buddha. Yes it makes for some very interesting discussions. It is an example of our family’s belief that we are all on different roads headed to the same destination.
One Christmas season 24 years ago, a very dear friend of mine volunteered to babysit for our two children who were 8 and 10 years old at the time. Fran and I had someplace to be and the children’s “Uncle Kay” was there to watch them for the evening. As is the case most every year, the Christmas tree and decorations were everywhere and on top of the piano stood our Chanukah Menorah with the lights brightly lit. Uncle Kay was not familiar with the Jewish holiday so he asked my oldest, Sara, if there was an equivalent to Christmas for the Jewish children of the world. Sara proceeded to tell the story of the Chanukah King. She stated that just as there was Santa Claus at the North Pole, the Chanukah King lived at the South Pole. On Christmas day, Christian children open presents from under a lit tree, they have a big feast of turkey or ham, sing carols, and play games. For Chanukah, the children also get presents, feast on potato pancakes and brisket, they light the Menorah and they sing songs and play with a dreidel or spinning top. Sara went on to say that Santa has so many presents to make and distribute that he has several elves to help him. But fortunately, she said, Christmas is only one day while Chanukah is celebrated for eight days. The Jewish children get presents on each of the eight nights. Uncle Kay was quite impressed. He asked Sara who was there to help the Chanukah King? She went on to say that there were numerous fairies that were able to fly around the world to help deliver the gifts and each night had a special designation. The first night all the children would get pajamas and the second night additional clothing and so on and so on. Of course at the appropriate time they went to bed and we arrived home a few hours later. When we asked Kay about his evening, he recounted this preposterous story. Needless to say her deep sleep was rudely interrupted.
Comical? I hope you think so. But the point here is that there are so many common elements about the real celebration that I am sure it seemed believable to someone totally unfamiliar with Jewish traditions.
The real story of Chanukah (the Festival of Lights) which took place during the 2nd Century BCE is a commemoration of life and the commitment to remain true to the Jewish beliefs. Once again the Jewish people had to fight against oppression and with their victory came the task of reconsecrating the Second Temple which had been defiled by their enemies. The lighting of the menorah (a nine candle candelabra), the use of oil, and a dreidel (a four sided top) have become the main symbols of the holiday. In North America and in Israel the Chanukah celebration centers on the concepts of resistance, liberation, and religious freedom. The last day of Chanukah has special significance as a day for repentance and thankfulness for the fulfillment of prayers. True to the holiday spirit are lights, rich foods, presents and games for the children to play.
I am sure that I don’t need to bring up the traditions and symbols of Christmas. So if we review all four holiday greetings — Happy Kwanzaa, Eid Mubarak (Joyous Holiday), Happy Chanukah, and Merry Christmas. If we look at the symbols and the traditions that are passed down to the next generation we find so many things that each has in common.
Over the years I have seen an ever increasing emphasis on embracing diversity. A concept that evokes in many, the emotions and feelings that divide u s – sometimes even polarize us. History has even shown us of the polarization of various Christian sects even though they worship the same Son of God. So please re read my previous article and this article and ask yourself, “Do you see the commonalities of these holidays in their celebrations, their symbols, their principles, and their intent of passing on traditions for many generations to come? Could it be that we are spending so much time and effort in concentrating on our differences, that we miss the big picture? It is staring us right in the face – we are all interconnected, we share all the same hopes and dreams. Whether you say, As-salamu alaykum, Shalom Aleichem, or Peace be with you, you are speaking the same language of “Peace on Earth, Good Will Towards Men.” From the Levitt family to you “May you be filled with the spirit of the season.”