Today, I conducted a little workshop for the 6th-7th grade classes on the relationship between Hanukah and Christmas. Bear in mind that close to 50% of the children come from intermarried homes; for them, this discussion proved to be quite revelatory. A series of questions were posed to the kids helping them process the awkward feelings families often grapple with whenever this time of the year arrives.
For me personally, these questions are quite familiar; I remember growing up in a small Pennsylvanian steel-mining town where being a Jewish kid was an uncomfortable experience. My father was a Holocaust survivor, and the last thing he wanted to hear from me was singing the traditional Christmas carols chanted at school. During music, I would often sing off-key to express my protest of having had to sing, “Joy to the World,” or “Silent Night.” You could say that it was one of my first of many experiences in civil disobedience!
Back to our story … the children at our joint religious school mentioned some of their experiences. One child was thrown out of his music class (Boy—that sure sounded familiar!), while others politely sung the songs without much fanfare.
In my discussions with the kids, I tried to stress that Christmas is a lot like a personal birthday party; whenever attending the party, one can be happy for the person celebrating his birthday, but in the final analysis, it is that child’s own special occasion—and no one else’s. As Jews we need to respect the holidays of our neighbor or loved ones. Nobody has the right to diminish that individual’s right to celebrate the holiday—but the celebration is not a Jewish one. However, we also have our own holidays, many of which we observe throughout the year.
We went around the room going over the sundry Jewish holidays we celebrate.
Here are some of the comments I heard that night: Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuoth, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth, the list goes on and on. Although Hanukah is an important holiday that celebrates religious freedom and the right for a minority to worship God as they see fit, it is still a relatively minor holiday of the Jewish year. Christmas, on the other hand, is more like a Christian Rosh Hashanah. It is not realistic to expect that Hanukah should be equal to Christmas in terms of importance because it’s not. Continue reading “Hanukah: Celebrating the Gift of Being Different”