The December Dilemma
Hanukkah's proximity to Christmas has greatly affected the way the holiday is viewed.
Then, of course, there are parents who believe that the December lesson, that Jews are different than almost everybody else, is an inescapable part of being Jewish, unless you live in Israel. There is a great value in being unique, different, valuable in your own right. In fact, for them, the celebration of Hanukkah in proximity to Christmas is a boon. They want their children to identify with the Maccabees' struggle for religious liberty and for the right not to assimilate into the majority culture. Is this not the very same struggle that we Jews living in a predominantly Christian society must also wage?
At the same time, most Jews are comfortable in North American society. The great promise of religious freedom has indeed created the diversity of culture that characterizes the free world. When we live side by side with other people of other religions, we must respect and appreciate their customs, arts, and traditions.
What does appreciation mean? It means that there is nothing wrong with enjoying the beauty of someone else's celebration. Is there any doubt that the music of Christmas is lovely and quite moving? Any number of rabbis and educators will admit that they are "closet carolers." How can one grow up in this culture and not learn the words to "White Christmas"? Can we deny the beauty of the Christmas tree, its ornaments and decorations? Not really. Shall we be embarrassed at finding ourselves moved to tears by the Christmas scene in It's a Wonderful Life? If we are strong in our Jewish commitments, there is little danger that appreciating the warmth and beauty of another's holiday will threaten our fundamental identity.
But appreciation does not mean appropriation. Because appropriation leads to confusion, loss of identity and ultimately, assimilation. And assimilation is what the Maccabees and generations of Jews after them fought so hard to prevent. To appropriate Christmas into our homes would give posthumous victory to Antiochus. Christmas does not belong in a Jewish home--period.
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