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25http://www.beth-israel.org/blog/2010/12/Rabbi-Lyon%27s-Blog---12_03_2010
Rabbi Lyon's Blog - 12_03_2010
12/03/2010 11:31 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
December 3, 2010

 

                Just before Halloween this year, retail stores began to focus on winter holiday gift giving. Halloween was like the starting gun that began the race to December 25th. Thanksgiving was only a turn in the race. Barely noticed, we stuffed ourselves with turkey and headed to the shopping malls. Hundreds lined up outside store doors to be the first to buy the latest gizmo. And, now that Chanukah is here the only thing left to do is to brace ourselves for the last few hours before Christmas.

                Each of these holidays has become a milestone along the way for retailers to raise or lower their window banners. Sale! Lower Prices! Another Sale! Retailers aren’t to blame. They have to seize on seasonal opportunities. I get it. But, the reasons for the season shouldn’t only be wrapped in boxes marked down for clearance.

                At our dinner table last week, my daughter looked at me with a concerned expression on her face. I knew she wanted me to take her seriously. She looked up at me and said, “Dad, this year I’d like to celebrate a traditional Chanukah, with a present on each night.” I almost fell out of my chair. “Really,” I said, “I’d be happy to give you a traditional Chanukah. But, a traditional Chanukah means you would get only gelt (a few coins) on the first night.” Surprised and disappointed, she said, “Let’s celebrate a less traditional Chanukah.” I thought so. She’s young but she’s already a retailer’s prodigy.

                Indeed, Chanukah is a minor holiday. When the Maccabees prevailed over the Syrian Greeks in 164 BCE, they found a small cruse of oil enough to light the Temple lights for only one day. As the miracle story is told the oil lasted for eight. The holiday is obviously post-biblical; and, some details about how to observe it are recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (6th c CE) in Tractate Shabbat 21a. Gift giving was not one of the details. It came about as children were rewarded with a few coins in honor of the holiday, and when they played the dreidel game and won some prizes. Its proximity to Christmas and its own tradition of giving and receiving gifts transformed Chanukah into a holiday about lights and presents.

                Christians and Jews, alike, lament the loss of their respective holiday traditions. How many Christians can explain why the tree is an evergreen or the lights are predominantly red? How many Jews can explain why we increase the lights of the menorah from one to eight, rather than decrease them from eight to one? While you’re looking up the answers, I imagine that it would be easier to explain how to get to Best Buy during rush hour and by multiple routes; or how to attach the big red bow to the top of the new car without giving away the surprise.

                I miss the days when the December Dilemma was about how Jews and Christians could share the season respectfully and especially within interfaith families. And, I miss the days when Thanksgiving came before Christmas on TV. This year, I’m going to light the menorah with bigger candles and I’m going to cook up latkes that would make a cardiologist shiver. It’s a race to the finish line. Let’s see who rings up a better season. Will it be families who celebrate their holidays with meaning and care, or black Friday and internet Monday? I’m putting my money into a few thoughtful gifts and on the hope found in the lights we kindle in gratitude to God for the victories of old.

                Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom from my family to yours.

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