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What Dilemma?

12/10/2020 10:33:19 AM


Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

We’ve entered the period of time called by some the “December Dilemma”. Are you unfamiliar with the term? While I do not know who first coined it or when, it refers to the overwhelming reminders of Christmas that people who are not Christians face every year in December. How does one remain uplifted by their own faith when surrounded by constant reminders of Christmas?

Have you ever noticed that there is no comparable “April Angst” when Easter and Passover coincide, since Passover begins on the full moon of the vernal equinox and Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the full moon of the vernal equinox? Why not?

I grew up singing Christmas carols in school choruses and playing Christmas music in band, but it never offended me. I enjoyed, and still do, the magnificent music and beautiful harmonies. I enjoy the beautiful decorations that people festoon their homes with and the magnificent varieties of Christmas trees in homes along with the fragrant smells. For untold years I have travelled to NYC to take in all of the celebrations, such as the outdoor shops in Bryant Park, the incredibly creative windows in department stores, the wow when you first enter Macy’s and look down the main aisle, and the more joyful mood that people seem to exhibit.

Too many people have valiantly tried to equate the importance of Christmas with the importance of Chanukah without understanding how they are not comparable nor of the same importance. Chanukah was, and remains, a minor festival in the Jewish calendar that was created in the post-biblical period by the Maccabees. Biblically ordained festivals, such as Passover, Sukkot and Shavuot have greater weight and importance in the calendar than Chanukah. So what is the dilemma?

Many Christians lament the over-commercialization of Christmas, as the religious intent has been overwhelmed by the desire to sell things. It is true that everywhere one turns there is a reminder of Christmas. The television is filled with Christmas specials hosted by celebrities, Christmas-themed movies abound (“It’s a Wonderful Life” is a great movie), Christmas music is found on special Sirius stations as well as FM/AM stations, special advertisements fill social media and print media, sales brochures swamp our mailbox, and every store is decorated for Christmas. The essence of Christmas sometimes gets drowned out by the extraneous, and I can understand why this is upsetting to many Christians.

I do not expect that this onslaught will lessen over time, but what can change is our attitude towards it. There is much that we can do to enhance our celebration of Chanukah, to enjoy the warm glow of the Chanukah menorah, to inhale the smell of the oil from fried latkes that lasts beyond the eight days, to create new ways to interact with our families and friends during a pandemic, and possibly even start new traditions, such as jointly lighting the Chanukah menorah at the same time through technology with others.

I recall a powerful question that my friend Pastor Eric Manning raised during a CNN taping of their Christmas show that he and I participated in December of 2018. I paraphrase his words: Why is ‘peace on earth, good will towards men’ (I would add the word “women”) a theme only for Christmas? Why can’t people behave this way all year long? Let’s think more about how to answer him, and less about the over-commercialization, for then we create a seismic change.

May those who celebrate Chanukah find the glow of the candles warming and soothing at a time when we need it most.

Sun, January 17 2021 4 Shevat 5781