“Daddy, can we celebrate Hanukkah?”
It was a simple question, to which I had no answer. On the one hand, of course not. We are not Jewish. Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah, and Christians (and American “nones”) celebrate Christmas. That’s just how it is. On the other hand though, why not?
The first thing I thought of was cultural appropriation. I know some people get super bent out of shape about such things, and I agree that it does sometimes happen in damaging ways to minority cultures. But I often fall on the side of “melting pot,” “sharing traditions,” “inclusiveness,” and whatnot. Maybe that is my privilege speaking, but I would like to see more people celebrating more things. That’s just me. After all, we did a solstice labyrinth this year, why not Hanukkah? But I also want to be respectful of those people who do not want me celebrating their traditions in a clueless and haphazard manner. So there’s that.
The second thing I thought of was, well, Jesus was Jewish, and he would have celebrated the Jewish holidays, right? And early Christians came out of Judaism, so wouldn’t it technically be a part of my long-lost religious tradition to celebrate Hanukkah? Sort of? Or am I rationalizing? You see, the Hanukkah story takes place in the 2nd century B.C. ( or apparently, according to the internet, B.C.E. now). This all happened pre-Jesus. So he would have known about it, right? And celebrated it? Right?
Except according to my actual Jewish friends, Hanukkah is only a big deal because of Christmas. Not wanting to sound dismissive or glib, they tell me, to a person, that Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are much bigger days, but because of all the attention Christmas gets around here, and because they fall around the same time, Hanukkah has become a bit inflated as a holy day, with the presents and the celebrations, and the what have you. Not being Jewish, I cannot vouch for the veracity of this claim, but it is what has been reported to me by my friends on the inside. So maybe Hanukkah was not a giant deal in the year zero.
So my wife bought a Menorah. We put it next to the Advent wreath. We taught Edward, who is six, about Maccabees, and the miracle of the oil. We showed him educational videos, like this one. We told him why we celebrate the light, at the same dinner that we told him about why we celebrate the light of the world. Christmas and Hanukkah don’t seem mutually exclusive to me. We didn’t spin a dreidel or give him 8 days of presents (trust me, he got enough presents on the 25th to last him for 8 days), but we took some time, lit some candles, said some prayers, and learned a little bit about another tradition that is different from ours. I hope we did it respectfully. And I hope when your children ask you about something that is foreign to your family, you take the time to learn with them. We had a great 8 nights this year. Merry Christmas everyone. And nes gadol hayah sham.