The lights twinkled on dark green pine trees while little white flakes of snow floated lazily down from the cloudy sky.
“Oh, mama, it’s so beautiful!”
I shook my head in agreement as we stood shoulder to shoulder with several hundred other residents of our little Central Oregon town and watched as the Christmas season had officially begun.
Reindeer and elves, Santa’s happy jolly face, and the endless loops of Karen Carpenter and Wham! filtering through cheap store speakers was due to become a constant companion for the next few weeks.
It was Christmas-time in a Christian nation and we were outsiders.
See, we celebrated Hanukkah instead.
Well, not instead, but because we wanted to celebrate the Festival of Lights more than we wanted to celebrate the cultural and religious holiday as it unfolded all around us.
There are elements to Hanukkah which have come to appear parallel to the Christian Christmas celebrations. The soft glow of tiny lights, candles, presents wrapped in silver bows, special foods, and the tradition of remembering the holiness of a present God.
But all those similarities aside, Hanukkah is most definitely not the Jewish Christmas.
While there are many elements of Christmas borrowed from cultural and historical celebrations, all of Hanukkah is unique to Hanukkah.
Hannukkah is a celebration of survival in the face of extreme opposition and a celebration of triumph over assimilation into a world that denied the holiness of God. More than anything Hanukkah is a celebration of the miracle of light.
A light that was only supposed to last for one day but lasted all the way up until the worshippers could stand and provide their own way to light.
There is no Hanukkah bush in our house as we come through the door that night. The sun had been down for an hour already and we were anxious to get started.
Pulling out the brass hanukkiah and multicolored candles from the freezer, we carefully melted the bottoms so they wouldn’t wobble in their settings.
Taking the middle candle, the shamash, or servant candle, we held the small light in our hands and sang blessings along with millions of others on that night.
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion.
As two little lights twinkled on the window sill, a small light against the glass barely noticeable from the street, I couldn’t help but think of words spoken in a little town in Judah when a grandfather stood up, alone, long ago and started a revolution when he said,
“I, my sons and my brothers are determined to remain loyal to the covenant which our God made with our ancestors!”
Once merely an old man in a village, the father of Judah Macabee now stands as a memorial of determination from millenia long past.
Looking down at the little boys with rosy cheeks and messy hair, I felt the call to rise up against the rising tide of secularism in my own world and my heart said,
“Me too, my friend, me too.”