Festivals of light, now more than ever

December 16, 2016 by Rabbi Deborah Reichmann

Festivals of light, now more than ever

I was going to start with a tirade. Railing against the hatred and intolerance I see spewing from all sides. Bemoaning the sorry state of the world. I won’t. It’s not that these things aren’t happening, but ranting won’t make it better. In fact, studies show that venting can add to depression, isolate individuals and make for a bleaker outlook.

There is enough dark right now just because our days are short, and the sun is weak (in the Northern hemisphere). Our traditions, our cultures and especially our religions know this about this time of year. That is part of why we all celebrate something during these dark days.

On December 24, after sundown, the eight day Jewish Festival of Chanukah begins:
We light the first Chanukah candle.
We celebrate the memory of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BCE.
We celebrate the unlikely victory of a small group of Jewish rebels against a mighty Greek army.
We share the stories of the Macabees and eat latkes and spin dreidels.
We revel in the warmth of our traditions and the warmth of family and friends.

This year, with Christmas eve coinciding with Chanukah we have an opportunity to add to our joy. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and other winter festivals are not in competition with each other, but an acknowledgement of humanity’s search for universal love. In the middle of the darkest days of winter we all seek the light, both literally and metaphorically. The short days make the candles seem brighter and the lights on the trees more magical. The festive colors and sweet smells add brightness to all our lives. We come together to celebrate life, to celebrate community, to celebrate the triumph of light over dark.

From a Jewish Universalist point of view, the traditions of Chanukah are an invitation to all, to Jews and non-Jews, to join together in praising the values of perseverance, dedication and the sanctity of life. This is the season to open doors and share our holidays with our neighbors and wrap ourselves in the warm comfort of friendship and family. The world is full of strife, as it is always. Perhaps this year seems darker than most, perhaps not. But, each chanukah candle is a rallying cry to seek the good in all people. With each flame we promise to do better ourselves. The ultimate Chanukah gift we can give each other is our dedication to improve this world and make it better for our children and grandchildren. We can be the light in these dark days.