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December 8, 2012

Hanukkah offers warm haven

The Daily Star

---- — Hanukkah begins Saturday at sundown. This Daily Star editorial originally appeared Dec. 21, 2000.

The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah has always been more than a bit problematic for those who celebrate it.

To many well-meaning Christians, it’s known as “the Jewish Christmas” because it occurs more or less near Christmas time.

Actually, Hanukkah can occur as early as November, because it begins on the 25th day of Kislev on the Hebrew calendar, which varies year-to-year with the Gregorian calendar.

Of course, Hanukkah is nothing like Christmas except for a few similar customs. Observant Jews will tell you that Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday that has been blown out of proportion by its proximity to Christmas.

Christmas, with its festive atmosphere, gift-giving, wonderful songs and spirit of goodwill, can be extremely seductive to non-Christians — especially children.

So, through the years, many Jewish parents — as indulgent as their Christian counterparts — have tried to see that their children do not feel deprived in this happy time of year.

Some families go overboard, at least in the opinion of many observant Jews, with Christmas trees playfully dubbed “Hanukkah bushes.”

Ironically, the very idea of assimilation was at the center of the origin of Hanukkah.

Back around 165 B.C., a number of ultra-religious Jews in what is now Israel warred with a faction that found the Greek way of life enticing. The more-liberal combatants of this civil war brought in Hellenist Syrians to fight at their side.

Led by Judah Maccabee, the conservative side defeated the mercenaries and reclaimed the holy Temple in Jerusalem, which had been defiled by the enemy and dedicated to the Greek god Zeus.

The Maccabees purified and repaired the Temple, and decided to have a celebration. They wanted to light the menorah, a candelabrum symbolic of the religion, but could only find enough oil to last one day.

Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days, and today Jews celebrate Hanukkah for eight days and nights by lighting candles in a menorah every evening.

In their wisdom, what Jews celebrate most is not the military victory, but the miracle of the menorah. Hanukkah’s lessons of faith, courage and freedom have taught generation after generation through the centuries.

Hanukkah is a warm and beautiful holiday. If it has also become a small haven for Jews from an incessant barrage of society’s Christmas celebrations, then all the better.

No matter how our Jewish citizens celebrate the holiday, we wish each of them a “Happy Hanukkah,” and a safe and joyous season.