Tomorrow is Christmas Eve and the last day of Hanukkah. Although Hanukkah is a “new” tradition to me, it is firmly rooted in my children, and when my second oldest child came for an early Christmas visit this month, he insisted on having one of his own favorite traditions from the season–latkes. I have not always celebrated Hanukkah correctly. It has been a learn-as-I-go adventure. After all, my Jewish mother knew nothing of her Jewishness until she was twenty-five. I knew I was Jewish as a child though, so I had plenty of time to think about how my Jewishness affects me both personally and as a Christian. I wanted my children to grow up understanding the things I didn’t, so as a single mom, I began researching and trying to establish Jewish traditions in my household.
I live in the middle of the state of Utah. My son lives in the northern end, and he was traveling to visit his wife’s family in the southern end. They made it a four day trip in order to accommodate as many family members as possible, so on the second morning, after spending the night with his grandparents-in-law, Cameron, his wife, and my little grandson showed up. I offered to make breakfast, and asked what he wanted. “Latkes!” he announced. “But I was planning on serving bacon;” I protested. “That’s not Kosher!”
Latkes with bacon it was. I justified my decision by adding my own rationalization: It wasn’t Hanukkah yet; I hadn’t lit any of the candles, and it wasn’t like we would be playing the dreidl game. (Although Cameron had asked–we just didn’t have time or anything to use as geld.)
I wondered how people of the Jewish faith might perceive our strange celebration in honor of keeping family tradition for my son. Then again, I have always wondered how people of the Jewish faith might perceive my combination of Christmas and Hanukkah. I know how my Mormon friends percieve it. Most think it’s awesome, and have eagerly participated in our celebrations when invited.
However, when I joked on Facebook that it is proper to say “Merry Christmukkah” at my house, a Mormon friend protested that he found it offensive. To be very honest, I was appalled. The whole point of my quip was that no matter what the greeting, the purpose of the season is for peace and good will to all humankind. Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Isn’t that what the angel said?
I celebrate Hanukkah because I want to understand the people in my past who made me who I am today. People I never met. I love that it also gives me an opportunity to understand others that I may meet–those who celebrate the season differently and who believe in peace on earth too. We don’t celebrate Christmas as a way to exclude, but as a way to embrace the coming of a savior to all the world.
It doesn’t matter if someone says “Happy Holidays” to me. I know what they mean, and I hope they know what I mean when I say “Merry Christmas.” I have never been in the habit of saying “Happy Hanukkah” outside of my own home; it’s a result of the culture that I live in. I don’t avoid saying “Happy Hanukkah,” but no one in my culture can relate to it.
Both celebrations are of bringing light into the world. So in this season I hope that it is appropriate that I suggest that we “lighten up.” This is not about waging war against one culture or another, it is about hope, peace, and good will. In fact, if you can’t handle “Happy Holidays,” and you insist on political correctness, may I suggest beginning a new tradition? Just say “Peace on Earth.” Translate it into Hebrew, and it is “Shalom.”