My response to Howard Jacobson’s piece Hanukkah, Rekindled
Maybe Hanukkah isn’t as glitzy and shiny as Christmas, but that’s why I like it. While American Christmas is in my face, garish and obtrusive, Hanukkah is understated. Christmas is frantic, always rushing and running around—never enough time. Hanukkah is chance to slow down, to stop and take a few moments to light the menorah and relax in the moment of quiet introspection.
I love candles and candlelight. I like the soft glow of the candles, and watching the wax drip away. I like the contrast of the warm, welcoming candle light to the dark, cold New England winter.
I know there are personal issues at play—a death in the family a week before Christmas Eve. I suspect part of the appeal of Hanukkah is that I don’t associate it with my sister’s death. I also don’t associate it with family obligations. No one in the family is Jewish. Neither am I, as a matter of fact, so Hanukkah isn’t steeped in familial tradition and demands. Hanukkah is just for me.
I can’t speak to the origins of Hanukkah, but it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not there was a battle, who won, or how long the oil lasted. At the 2009 White House Hanukkah celebration, President Obama said
in every corner of the world, Jews have lit the Hanukkah candles as symbols of resilience in times of peace, and in times of persecution – in concentration camps and ghettos; war zones and unfamiliar lands. Their light inspires us to hope beyond hope; to believe that miracles are possible even in the darkest of hours. It is this message of Hanukkah that speaks to us no matter what faith we practice or what beliefs we cherish…it invites all of us to rededicate ourselves to improving the lives of those around us, spreading the light of freedom and tolerance wherever oppression and prejudice exist.
That’s what I’m celebrating.
So maybe Hanukkah can’t compete with American Christmas because there aren’t as many presents, or the lights aren’t as colorful or the songs aren’t as cheery. If you want noise and color and consumption, then Hanukkah isn’t for you. But in a dark, cold winter at an overwhelming and depressing time of the year, it’s nice not to be bombarded with oral and visual stimulation. It’s nice to simply sit in the peaceful silence and watch the menorah candles glow.