Is Chanukah not the Festival of Lights?

Is Chanukah not the Festival of Lights?

By Chana Pawliger | Guest Columnist

It started a few weeks ago when we were driving to school and talking about our excitement for the upcoming holiday. My toddler noticed it first- a proud Menorah prominently displayed in the center of the rounded two-story wall of windows on the main floor of a beautiful new office building! My kids and I were thrilled.

I promised the little ones that one of these days we would park and go inside to get a closer look and tell the owner how glad his Menorah made us.

Yesterday was that day. We walked in smiling and told the woman at the front desk that we wanted to see the big Menorah and if the boss wasn’t too busy, could we thank him in person? She was eager to help but a bit confused. “A Menorah? I didn’t know we had a Menorah here. Inside or outside? In the corner of the building? Let’s go see what you mean.” She led me and my bouncing children into a hallway, drawing in a curious employee, a nice Jewish boy, to help solve the mystery (“Menorah? I didn’t know we had a Menorah. By the way, I know your husband from way back!”)

We got to the part of the building that I had indicated, and I looked around. Where was the Menorah? I knew we could see a row of lights from outside… And then it dawned on me. The “Menorah” was not a Menorah at all, but a pendant light fixture with a row of evenly spaced bulbs, hung above a counter in a mini cafeteria. I laughed. It was funny. Strange, slightly embarrassing, definitely disappointing. I felt awful for my children that their Chanukah Miracle was a Chanukah Mistake. I put on a smile and told the kids, “we can pretend it’s a real Menorah in our imagination!” and we piled back into the car.

I had the whole drive home to think about it all. Would the company add to the fixture to make it into a Menorah, just for fun? Why aren’t there more public displays of this bright and beautiful holiday in our many Jewish businesses and neighborhoods?

Why does it have to be that when we pass a home that is dark and sad-looking in December, we know it is likely a Jewish home? Is a lit up and decorated home inherently Christmas-y? Isn’t Chanukah the Festival of Lights?!

I know from what I read on social media that a lot of Jewish families, especially those with children in public school, struggle to make Chanukah as exciting as Christmas for their kids. Let’s face it: Christmas looks breathtakingly beautiful on the outside of some of our neighbors’ homes. If we string up blue and white lights from the roof, hang a Chanukah wreath on the front door, or put out a cute “Mensch on a bench” on the lawn or the mantel, are we apologizing to our children for our “less-cool” holiday? Are we trying too hard to prove something to our non-Jewish neighbors?

I wrestled with this thought. What is better, a dark house or a house that is decorated  in a borrowed-from-Christmas manner? The answer, I believe, is that we have such a rich tradition of our own to draw from in our celebration of the story of Chanukah. We really don’t need external input! We have our lights for our holiday- the light of the Menorah. Put a bright menorah on the outside of your home! Put one on your car! Put one in your office window! Let the Jewish children passing by on their way to school know that you are proud of our shared heritage and excited for the beautiful Chag of Chanukah.

In the sea of wreaths and strung lights, your Menorah will be a beacon of light to the many children who are lucky enough to see it this holiday season.

Happy Chanukah!

read more: