I grew up in a multicultural environment before attending a Jewish day school, so I’ve had many close friends of faiths different from mine – Baha’i, Muslim, Wicca, Christian, Atheist.
A distinct memory I have of this time of year is attending a homeschool group event on one of the days of Chanukah. All of my friends jumped up, wished me a happy holiday and asked me all sorts of questions about our holiday. Some other friends even e-mailed me Chanukah-specific greetings.
This was a very sweet gesture that I really appreciated. But interestingly, these wishes also made me notice the considerable differences between Chanukah and Christmas.
Chanukah normally falls around the same time as Christmas, so it seems to many that the two holidays might be parallel in some fashion. That’s not the case, of course; the holidays have very distinct vibes and spirits.
In particular, the length of these two holidays demonstrates one important difference. One intimate day of a holiday is very different than a long celebratory week.
Also, Chanukah isn’t one of Judaism’s most defining holidays, as Christmas is for Christianity. Yes, Chanukah celebrates miracles, and it’s about expressing thankfulness, honoring our history as a nation and taking time to add a spiritual note to our week.
But for most of the Festival of Lights, we go about our usual daily routines – we wear regular clothing, go to school, eat regular meals. It is a very sweet holiday – a week of joy and beautiful candle-lighting and song-singing rituals – but Chanukah is simply not the epitome of spirituality.
Of course, within our U.S. society, what defines Chanukah for most is a seasonal connection to Christmas. I can see how this association came to be, as an outward theme of both holidays is “lighting up the night.”
Both are observed towards the beginning of winter – a season of long nights and prolonged darkness, not necessarily the ideal season to feel gleeful – and lighting candles in windows or setting up trees and lights outside homes completely changes the bleakness of the outdoors. Thus, whatever neighborhood you’re in, you’re bound to see some holiday spirit, and likely in a shining, incandescent form.
And that’s the great thing about lights: When they’re bright, you can’t even see what they are representing, they’re just beautiful, bright bursts of color.
Whether they are representing a small feeling of jubilation, or a monumental feeling of inner-peace, they come together for one purpose: heightening the world’s spirituality. They provide an incredible feeling of unity, which brings me back to the aforementioned memory.
The holiday wishes my friends of different faiths and I would exchange were different. And yet, the act of warmly acknowledging each other’s faiths connected us all.
It wasn’t the similarity of the religion or holiday that brought us together; rather, it was the differentiation of them. Remarkable!
And so, what I’ll never forget from my mixed-faith community is just how similar our differences are. At the end of the day, we are a community of people that are different and, yet, the same.
What is noticeably different is usually superficial. Obviously, Chanukah and Christmas are dramatically different; but holiday spirit carries identical feelings.
With that, happy holidays, and vive la différence!
BY EDEN FARBER / For the Atlanta Jewish Times
Eden Farber, 15, is a sophomore at Yeshiva Atlanta. She was recognized in the Jewish Heritage National Poetry Contest of 2010 and has published op-eds and poetry in Modern Hippie Magazine and the NY Jewish Week’s Fresh Ink for Teens section.