Yes, as we all know as good environmentalists, it's good to recycle. However, as annoyed as I get with the notion of gift-giving etiquette, I admit that recycling is always better than re-gifting.
That being said, I'd like to borrow something from last year's post about Chanukah and Christmas (with a few small edits) and build on it:
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 homogenized 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!
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 even getting aggressive.
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 Chanukah and Christmas are both 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 from the impurities that have been deposited there? 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!
So how about it -- are you ready to cleanse your temple, be re-birthed, or preferably both? Why not?
Maybe it looks like too much of a chore to cleanse that temple. Let it stay like that, I don't care, it doesn't bother me. Really?
Now imagine how clean, majestic, and snazzy jazzy that temple would look if it were cleansed -- wouldn't you rather have that? A psyche free from frustration and self-defeating thoughts? The ability to act more than react? The understanding that solving problems is better than worrying about them, and that hating people doesn't change them? Yeah, it's a pain and a half to have the temple set up that way, but how much happier would you be if it were?!!?!?!
And starting over? Who's into that? Haven't we already learned what we needed to in childhood? Can't we skip these lectures and just do what we've always done? Aren't we just OK taking this path?
I'll say it politely: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
We get a chance to "start over," in huge ways and small ways, every day. We don't really even have to wait for this time of year, as we could have done it in July if we were so inclined. But since time of year is dedicated to the birth of a child who would change the entire world, it's only fitting to begin a new life within ourselves now.
And yes, as those of you who personally know me are aware, this year I've been doing both of the above. I won't discuss what this actually means, for several reasons, but I've been cleansing my temple and beginning a new life for this entire year. Don't get me wrong, temples don't get cleansed overnight (despite what the ads may say), and re-birth is a little messy, which sometimes sets the cleansing process back a little. But I think they are both necessary and interdependent processes. If you're going to have a newly-refurnished temple, you've gotta have a newly-refurbished self to preside over it, of course. In other words, your change must be complete, inside and out.
So, Friends and Neighbors, given what was written last year, and coupling it with my own experience this year, it's a good idea to make this winter holiday season one of starting a new beginning, regardless of what faith or stripe you represent. By all means, continue with the customs you've always known and loved, but it's always good to share with those who do it a little differently. Either way, let this December be a celebration of brand new traditions and originating new customs.
That's my piece. For all my friends celebrating the second candle lighting, Happy Chanukah!
PS -- a good friend of mine who has studied the Bible extensively recently stumped me. When I wished Happy Chanukah to everyone in the Tribe, he asked me, "Which one?"
As a matter of clarification, Jews often affectionately refer to the Jewish community as a whole as "the Tribe" (sort of like Cleveland Indians fans) and to fellow Jews as M.O.T. -- Member Of the Tribe. With the exception of those whose family names give obvious hints, it's very difficult for Jews to determine whether they originated from one of the twelve tribes of Isreal, although we could possibly narrow it down to Judah and Levi. Accordingly, use of "the Tribe" does not designate ancestry from any particular biblical tribe. It's really just a cute little saying. :)
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