Two Key Holidays Occur on Dec. 24

Two Key Holidays Occur on Dec. 24

 

Both Jewish and Christian traditions will celebrate the spiritual truths they share on the same day this year

This year Christmas Eve and the first night of Chanukah fall on the same day. In the past 100 years, it has happened just four times — 1918, 1921, 1959 and 2005. 

For many people, both holidays are a time to be with family, share presents and enjoy sharing time with friends. And, that’s all wonderful. However, with the two holidays falling on the same day, it’s also a good time to pause and reflect on what’s distinct and what’s shared by them both. 

We live in a world in which we like to homogenize everything, especially when it comes to religion. Distinctions mistakenly threaten us; they presume we stand in opposition with another. When it comes to how we see the world, we like it when lines are blurred. We feel justified in our ambiguities, we feel secure. 

But religious distinctions aren’t necessarily pejorative. In fact, they are the foundation of our democratic society. It’s important to keep Chanukah and Christmas separate. They are two very different stories. One is central to a religion’s faith story, the other is not. 

Christmas and Chanukah neither share the same relevance nor the same story. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, who, in Christianity, came into this world to save us from our sins. Central in this belief is that Jesus, miraculously conceived, was the son of God, the anointed one, the Christ, who would reconcile us to God, save us from apocalyptic doom and through living a life similar to his, would offer us eternal life. 

Chanukah is a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar and, is very different. It celebrates the story of how a small group of rebels led by Judah Maccabee and his family, defeated King Antiochus and the Greeks and recaptured the Temple in Jerusalem, the most sacred place in Judaism. Over the centuries, the message of Chanukah would morph into the celebration of how the oil to light the eternal light miraculously lasted eight days. The story of the Maccabees is not in the Hebrew Bible. It’s recorded in the Apocrypha. The story about the miracle of the oil is found in the Talmud.

The stories may be different but, along with all true religions, they share a common message. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and the rest all seek the same end, which is to bring the light of peace into the world. Though the language we use is different, when Christian clergy speak of people walking in the ways of Jesus and Jewish clergy talk about living a life of Torah this is what we mean. 

Both Christmas and Chanukah bring to light the abiding truth that it is not by power, nor by might, but by spirit shall humanity live in peace. And, right now, as we reflect on all that happened this past year, and consider what next year may bring, this is a message our community dearly needs to embrace. 

 

 

Barnett J Brickner is the Rabbi at Temple Israel of Alameda.