As the days get darker much earlier, I am so attracted to the colourful lights in store window and other people’s houses as I walk home. The contrast between the dark – and often wet – streets and the shining patches of light create a special seasonal beauty.
But I notice other contrasts on the street: some people are walking alone with their head down in the cold and their shoulders bunched up to keep warm. Other people are in groups as they make their way, chatting and laughing down the street.
This is also the time of the year when all charities reach out – by letter or email – for my donation. Causes that are not familiar to me ask me to remember them with a gift this year.
Although Chanukah is a happy festival, it is a much less significant and less public holiday than Christmas. People who know I am Jewish often add Happy Chanukah when they wish me a Merry Christmas.
My response to my Christian friends over the years, has been to send greetings by email and/or bake something special for them close to Christmas.
But the differences between Christians and Jews are much more basic than the relative importance of the holiday to each community. We are usually too busy to talk about our differences for any length of time. When I am sometimes asked whether I “believe in Jesus” at Christmas, the short answer is no. But I try not to stick to the short answer. I try to tell people that Christmas looks like such a happy holiday to me or to ask them if they are having a celebration at their own house. Some people share their own family challenges at Christmas time, others talk about how exhausting, but delightful, all the preparatory work can be.
As our communities become more secular, less religiously affiliated, more “spiritual,” we move toward seeing Christmas and even Chanukah as part of common culture. By drifting in that direction, we are moving away from being “wonder-filled” at our previous generations’ sense of miracle. We are less inclined to think about God in our own lives and become impoverished by our common cynicism. For both communities, this year, let us take a chance again at being wonder-struck because that feeling is the real gift of the holidays in the dark.