This Friday night, December 15, marks the first night of the festival of Hanukkah. On this date by the lunar calendar, 2,171 years ago, the Maccabee guerrillas of Judea completed their victory over their Syrian-Greek overlords and retook the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Ever since then, Jews around the world have marked the event with an eight-day festival of lights, a celebration of national pride and religious freedom.
Through much of our history, it’s been a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar. It doesn’t appear in the Bible. It carries none of the aura of divine command that infuses other days such as Passover and the New Year. It has no religious restrictions that set it apart as a sacred day of rest and reflection. It’s little more than an opportunity for a bit of fun, pageantry and gift-giving.
That’s part of the reason that American Jews have come to love Hanukkah so — that, and the fact that it comes along during the Christmas season. Hanukkah gives us a chance to join in the pervasive holiday spirit in our own way, to be part of the larger society and yet not part of it. That’s the way we like to be.
The last thing anyone needs on Hanukkah is a solemn message. All the same, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on the blessing of living in a time and place where we are free to construct our lives as we like, both individually and communally. We at the Forward wish our readers and friends a very happy holiday season.