When it was just my husband and I we didn’t bother to make a big deal out of Chanukah. We’d light the candles and exchange a few gifts and that was that. But now that we are raising little boys that we hope will embrace their faith, we’ve starting making Chanukah A BIG DEAL. Chanukah is awesome! Chanukah is eight nights, not just one! Don’t mind those Christmas trees or Santa, look at Chanukah!
Last year, in our ongoing attempts to make Chanukah cool and as fabulous as Christmas, we took our almost 4-year-old to the ice menorah lighting sponsored by the local Chabad. It was beautiful, of course, a large ice menorah with oil lights and our local lake as the backdrop. A nice crowd of people holding candles and singing songs followed by latkes and donuts.
After the menorah lighting and after we had stuffed ourselves with fried food, there was a movie. At first we weren’t going to stay but our son was intensely interested in the movie which was a cartoon storytelling of the Chanukah story. There were the Greeks first telling the Jews they could practice as they wish followed by the predictable turn of events when the Greek ruler Antiochus outlawed Judaism and desecrated the Temple.
Sitting in my husband’s lap, my son started to get tears in his eyes as he watched Jerusalem and the Jews suffer through that difficult time. He looked me and asked “Where is God?” My husband and I looked at each other, touched and slightly bewildered by his question. We reassured him that all would be all right and that God is always with us, and the movie went on to show how the Jews and our son’s current hero, Judah Maccabee, eventually rose up and rededicated their Temple, and the oil burned for eight days and it was a miracle. After the movie, we thanked the rabbi and made our way home.
My son’s question struck a nerve with me. Having grown up in an interfaith family in Europe, I celebrated both Christmas and Chanukah but with very secular activities. There wasn’t much mention of God or why these holidays should be meaningful to us. After marrying my husband, who had spent many years in Israel, we decided to start keeping kosher and being more observant, and we would call ourselves a sort of Reform-a-dox household.
We are part of a Reform Jewish community with many interfaith families that celebrate both holidays in December. Some families do this with ease and grace, but so many find it a difficult time, the “December Dilemma” with one side of the family finding offense or being upset or simply not honoring the other holiday. There’s the perpetual debate about whether it’s “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays” or someone feels slighted because they don’t get a visit from Santa. I used to have some strong opinions about this myself, but now humbled by my son, I fall back on his innocent question: Where is God?
I’m no longer so worried about whether I can make Chanukah more fun than Christmas for my children or whether another family in our congregation has a tree. I smile and thank everyone that wishes me a Merry Christmas and hope that they find true meaning in that wish. I teach my children that miracles happen in the most unlikely places, just when we think things can’t get any worse. We are all just trying to find the light in darkness. We are all looking for a little redemption and a miracle. We are all looking for God.
Jennifer Harmon is an aspiring writer and SAHM to two boys. She is just entering the blogosphere with a blog called writinguntildawn.wordpress.com where she hopes to chronicle her journey toward finishing a novel. Her favorite Christmas song is “O Come All Ye Faithful.”