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Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays -- Please!

Sunday night, friends and neighbors!  Time to share with all some thoughts on the upcoming December holidays!

This month, those of us who were raised with a Judeo-Christian upbringing encounter the second of two occurrences in the year when two quasi-religious festivals that coincide chronologically, but represent different traditions, are celebrated.  That is to say, it's one of the rare occasions where Judeo- and -Christian are de-hyphenated and separated.

Let's review. 

CHANUKAH

Chanukah (also known as Hannukah, Hanukkah, Channukah, Chanukkah (Jodie how do you get the app for Hebrew letters again?), and the Festival of Lights) is celebrated by Jews to commemorate the events in the First Book of Maccabees.  Ironically, this book is not included in the Jewish Bible, which had already been canonized when these events took place, and is instead in the Apocrypha.

A Greek ruler, Antiochus Epiphanes IV, was given control over Jerusalem, desecrated the Holy Temple, attempted to completely suppress the practice of Judaism, and to completely Hellenize the population.  The sons of the High Priest, Mattathias, including Judah Maccabee, staged a military campaign against the Greeks to defend and protect the faith, emerged victorious, and rededicated the Temple (too bad they had to form an alliance with the Romans to get it done).  Legend says that there was not enough oil to light the lamps in the Temple for even one day, but after it had been re-dedicated, it lit the lamp for eight days instead. 

The theme of this holiday is to resist conformity, to refuse to be dominated by oppressors, and to be courageous.  It's celebrated by lighting the menorah eight nights in a row, giving & receiving presents, and eating latkes and applesauce (sometimes sour cream, that's my thing) and jelly donuts (what, no chocolate?).  All in all, not the major huge holiday that Passover is, but it's celebrated nonetheless, and the message is certainly not lost on this blogger!

CHRISTMAS

Christmas celebrates the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ to Mary.  The two accounts of this occasion, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, indicate that the birth took place in a manger, which may or may not have been in the midst of farm animals.  It is the second-most important holiday in all Christian denominations, as the birth of this Son of G-D to a human mother is the first of several miracles that are said to reveal G-D's love to the world, and the foundation of all permutations of Christianity that would eventually follow.

(yes, some of them celebrate this holiday in January, but that's not important right now).

The celebration of these two holidays have given rise to a certain degree of awkwardness, that many have attempted to remedy by simply merging both holidays into a generic December/winter-solstice celebration to make sure nobody gets "offended" or left out, or made to feel disloyal in some way.  I can still remember songs being replaced from an elementary school's holiday concert for just that reason.  The terms used to describe an office party likewise become homgenized and genericized to avoid ruffling feathers.

Rather than continue in this politically correct mishmash, I propose a different approach -- celebrate the underlying MESSAGES of both holidays, and how they coincide, and not contradict!  They BOTH stand for NEW BEGINNINGS, and declarations of SELF-IDENTITY!

NEW BEGINNINGS!

Just look at them:  Chanukah celebrates a new beginning for Judaism by removing a corrupting influence, despite the fact that most of the Jews actually wanted the corrupting influence to continue.  Christmas celebrates a new beginning because a savior and redeemer was born, half human and half diety, just ready to start one of the most influential lives ever lived.  Until he met the end of his human life in his early 30's, he would face an onslaught of corrupting influences, and inspire those around him to resist them without the need to take up arms.

Now that I've found and isolated the common thread between both festivals, what exactly am I planning to do with it?  Glad you asked . . . .

I am not suggesting that any of you dispense with family traditions, of course.  But my proposal would be to merge Chanukah, Christmas, and New Year's into a two-week nonsectarian festival of New Beginnings.  Is it any accident that both holidays are perched so perilously close to January 1st?  Let's make the timing work for us!

Let's go easy on the list of what you want to give/receive in terms of material gifts -- instead, make a list of new beginnings!  How will you cleanse the temple that is your life?  Will you restore it to the joy and peace you knew in childhood?  Will you remove negativity, obsessions, and old habits from your sanctuary and replace them with things worth venerating?

Or better yet, will this be a year to start a whole new life?  I mean from the ground up, from the beginning forward?  Can you get past everything that happened before that held you back and make this a Day One instead?

Not to toot my own horn, but I think we may have discovered the "true meaning" of the "holiday season" -- to start a new beginning!

Ummmm, yeaaaahhh Daaaave???  Isn't this what you already posted about for the Jewish New Year?

Ummmm, no it isn't.  Those posts were about forgiveness, while this one is simply about beginning again.  No requirement to atone here -- only a desire to start from Square One!
And while you're repeating "Seasons' Greetings," "Happy Holidays," and whatever other greetings gets tossed around for the next few weeks, let's put this one on for size:

I EXIST.  I MATTER.  I BELONG.  I DESERVE.

May you and yours have a Happy New Beginning!