Some thoughts from the Rabbi – excerpts from this article. I recommend the whole thing, which is a left wing argument against melting pot celebrations of “the holiday season,” which dilute the vitality of each holiday.
Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. But whereas Christmas focuses on the birth of a single individual whose life and mission was itself supposed to bring liberation, Chanukah is about a national liberation struggle involving an entire people who seek to remake the world through struggle with an oppressive political and social order: the Greek conquerors (who ruled Judea from the time of Alexander in 325 B.C.E.) and the Hellenistic culture that they sought to impose. Though the holiday celebrated by lighting candles for 8 nights recalls the victory of the guerrilla struggle led by the Maccabees against the Syrian branch of the Greek empire, and the subsequent rededication (Chaunkah in Hebrew) of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E., there was a more difficult struggle which took place (and in some dimensions still rages) within the Jewish people between those who hoped for a triumph of a spiritual vision of the world embedded (as it turned out, quite imperfectly) in the Maccabbees and a cynical realism that had become the common sense of the merchants and priests who dominated the more cosmopolitan arena of Jerusalem. ….
The identification with the oppressed, enshrined in Judaism in its insistence that Jews were derived from slaves who had been liberated, and in its focus on retelling the story of being oppressed that was central to the Torah, seemed atavistic and naïve to the more educated and enlightened Jewish urban dwellers, who pointed to the reactionary tribalistic elements of Torah and sided with the Greeks when they declared circumcision and study of Torah illegal and banned the observance of the Sabbath.
The miracle of Chanukah is that so many people were able to resist the overwhelming “reality” imposed by the imperialists and to stay loyal to a vision of a world based on generosity, love of stranger, and loyalty to an invisible God who promised that life could be based on justice and peace It was these “little guys,” the powerless, who managed to sustain a vision of hope that inspired them to fight against overwhelming odds, against the power of technology and science organized in the service of domination, and despite the fact that they were dismissed as terrorists and fundamentalist crazies. When this kind of energy, what religious people call “the Spirit of God,” becomes ingredient in the consciousness of ordinary people, miracles ensue.
Radical hope is also the message of Christmas. Like Chanukah, it is rooted in the
ancient tradition of a winter solstice celebration to affirm humanity’s belief that the days, now grown shortest around December 23rd, will grow long again as the sun returns to heat the earth and nourish the plants. Just as Jews light holiday lights at this time of year, so
do Christians transform the dark into a holiday of lights, with beautiful Christmas trees adorned with candles or electric lights, and lights on the outside and inside of their homes.
Christianity took the hope of the ancients and transformed it into a hope for the transformation of a world of oppression. The birth of a newborn, always a signal of hope for the family in which it was born, was transformed into the birth of the messiah who would come to challenge existing systems of economic and political oppression, and bring a new era of peace on earth, social justice and love. Symbolizing that in the baby Jesus was a beautiful way to celebrate and reaffirm hope in the social darkness that has been imposed on the world by the Roman empire, and all its successors right up through the contemporary dominance of a globalized rule of corporate and media forces that have permeated every corner of the planet with their ethos of selfishness and materialism.
Seeing Jesus as the Son of God, and as an intrinsic part of God, was also a way of giving radical substance to the notion that every human being is created in the image of God. ….
Jews and Christians have much in common in celebrating at this time of year. We certainly want to use this holiday season to once again affirm our commitment to end the war in Iraq, to end global poverty and hunger by embracing the NSP version of the Global Marshall Plan, and to save the world from ecological destruction. We live in dark times–but these holidays help us reaffirm our hope for a fundamentlaly different reality that we can help bring about in the ocming years.
And yet, there are reasons to not mush together these separate holidays. The tremendous pressure of the capitalist marketplace has been to take these holidays, eliminate their actual revolutionary messages, and instead turn them into a secular focus whose only command is “Be Happy and Buy.” The huge pressure to be happy and the media’s ability to portray others as beaming with joy makes a huge number of people despondent because they actually don’t feel that kind of joy, and imagine that they are the only ones who don’t, and hence feel terrible about themselves, something they seek to repair by buying, drugging or drinking themselves into happiness. And when that too doesn’t work for very long, they become all the more unhappy with themselves or with others. …. But this well-intentioned move to fit into American society only helped the capitalist secularists, and unintentionally further undermined the ability of Christians to hold on to the religious and spiritual intent of their holiday. This is why spiritual progressives of the Christian faith have urged Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives to NOT celebrate the holiday as one undifferentiated “holiday season” but to celebrate the holidays as religious and spiritual holidays and to affirm the specific religious message of each one depending on which fits your particular faith. …. Christmas and Easter are the main Christian holidays, while Chanukah is only a minor holiday that has become major only because Jews in the West felt the need when they were tyring to be more assimilated into the dominant cultures of the West in the past 150 years to provide their children with something that could compensate them for not having Christmas. But our major holidays are Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur and Passover (and of course, weekly Shabbat), and so when Chanukah gets secularized we don’t lose as much as Christians do when Christmas is secularized, so in respect to the requests from our spiritual progressive Christian sisters and brothers, I want to affirm their call to make Christmas a religious holiday and not celebrate it unless you are religiously Christian.
It’s an interesting perspective, kind of taking on the “Christmas industrial complex” (thank you Shankar!) and assimilation all at once, with a few other issue thrown in to boot. I don’t think I agree with him. Each of the winter holidays is about hope and light at the darkest time of year, and I don’t equate ecumenism with consumption. But there is some food for thought.
Cartoon comes from Cartoonstock. Click on it to enlarge.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah by the way. Spell it either way.