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Asking the clergy: What are the common messages of the holiday season?

Photo Credit: Schwartz Candies

Hanukkah and Christmas overlap this month. The first night of Hanukkah, which is set by the lunar calendar, falls on Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, and the first full day of Hanukkah, the Jewish holiday also known as the Festival of Lights, occurs on Christmas Day. The Jewish holiday continues for eight days until the New Year. This week’s clergy discuss common themes of the holiday season.

The Rev. Enid Kessler

Interfaith Community of Long Island, Brookville

Both the Hanukkah and Christmas stories are centered around family and originate with a family story. The Christmas story is centered around Jesus, Mary and Joseph, and the Hanukkah story is centered around the Maccabee family, who defeated the Greeks with the help of the Romans. (And of course, the Jesus story also involves the Romans.) Furthermore, both Christmas and Hanukkah have to do with light. They both come about at a time of year when light is important because it’s the darkest time of the year. Christians light Advent candles, one for each of the four Sundays of Advent leading up to Christmas, and Jews light the candles of the menorah, one each night for the eight nights of the miracle. Both of these traditions suggest another similarity. Christmas and Hanukkah share a miraculous origin: the virgin birth of Jesus, in Christianity, and in Judaism, the miracle of oil, which was expected to last just one day, but lasted eight days. Both are also a time for families to come together to celebrate and enjoy special foods, such as latke potato pancakes, doughnuts and other foods fried in oil for Hanukkah. The giving of gifts is also a common theme, which in Christianity recalls the gifts of the Three Wise Men to the infant Jesus, and in Judaism revolves around the spinning of the dreidel and the giving of gifts on the nights of Hanukkah. Some families give one big gift, and some give a gift every night.

The Rev. Laurie Stuart

Transition minister, South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Freeport

The common theme connecting Hanukkah and Christmas has to do with the theme of the Eternal Light and salvation of a people. The story of Hanukkah centers around the Maccabees, a small band of men, who run the Greeks out of the Temple of Jerusalem, only to find that there is only enough sacred oil to light the Eternal Light for one day. The miracle is that, not only does the oil last for eight days until a new batch of oil can be consecrated, but God keeps his promise that the Jews are a chosen people because they will bring forth the Messiah. Then about 200 years later, Jesus comes to the temple and announces that he is the light of the world. He is the Eternal Light. At this time of receding light and a growing religious division, the Hanukkah and Christmas holiday, and the connection between them, afford us the opportunity to shine light into dark corners and touch that which we hold most dear: Eternal Light and a presence that transcends.

Rabbi Mendy Goldberg

Lubavitch of the East End, Coram

What we have in common in the holiday season is the idea that doing one small act of goodness and kindness, and sharing the holiday spirit of light and warmth, can dispel much darkness. Hanukkah is the triumph of light over darkness. Going back to the story of Hanukkah, there was a great Greek army, which tried to persuade the Jewish people to lose their faith in God and adapt the Hellenist ways. It was only with a small army of the Maccabees that fought against the mighty Greek army that they were able to be victorious and restore the sacred Holy Temple in Jerusalem. After much searching, they were then able to find a small cruse of pure oil to light the menorah, the candelabra that was in the Holy Temple. The oil was enough for one day, but instead lasted eight days. That is a beautiful historic miracle with a pertinent and contemporary message for all to learn: that all it takes to beat the darkness of the world is a small cruse of oil. While we sit with our families this holiday season, we listen to the message of the candles, how as we look around, the world may be dark and cold, but we need to teach our children not to be afraid of the dark, afraid of the many, afraid of the opposition. We are then enabled with God’s help to light up the world, until we will merit a time that the world with be endowed with peace and tranquility for all.

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