Chanukah and Christmas are over. The light of these holidays helped many of us get through the darkest time of the year, symbolizing and encouraging hope in the midst of darkness. There were parties. There were gifts. There were colorful posts to be seen on Facebook and good cheer shining forth on our smart phones, tablets, and computer screens.
That said, I’m always relieved when the holidays are over. I worry about not doing enough, not feeling cheerful enough, not meeting everyone’s expectations, not fitting in. I’m old enough to know that Chanukah is a minor holiday, and old enough to have grown up in a time when there was no way that Chanukah could measure up to Christmas. Maybe this is still true for most Jews, but when I was a child there wasn’t even an attempt to make it meaningful and exciting. Also, now that I know the real story of Chanukah, I understand why the rabbis of old wrote the miracle of the oil part rather than focusing on celebrating the victory of the Maccabees during a civil war.
Where does this leave me? Every year I try to find meaning in Chanukah and Christmas. I will not ignore Christmas, as I was encouraged to do as a child. I want to understand my Christian friends and family. So, what meaning do I find in these winter holidays? Now, for me, Chanukah is about light in darkness, hope in the middle of despair, and the importance of individual choice regarding religious practice, and Christmas is about new beginnings and the potential of a helpless baby to develop and become compassionate and loving. As a humanist I believe that we all can be hopeful, free, compassionate, and loving.