‘Tis the Season! Feed the Light!
I just realized that all the holidays I know in December, celebrate Light. There’s something ironic about how during this month of winter-short days and lengthening nights, we celebrate a lot about and with Light- or maybe it is not ironic at all. Very likely, these shortened days are a very good reason that Light is celebrated at this time. That seems very logical and simple.
There’s Chanukah’s eight days of celebrating a miracle of Light, there’s the Solstice that celebrates and welcomes the Sun as it embarks upon its’ return journey to lengthening our days, and therefore our Light. And then of course, within the Christmas story, a Star, (it is speculated that it was actually a conjunction of planets) leads the Magi- Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with Royal Beauty Bright- again, Light plays a big part.
We just put lights on our Tree, probably because we too, feel the urge for and to celebrate Light.
My husband just LOVES this season and Christmas, and always has. In more recent years Yule/Solstice resonates with his own Celtic heritage more, so receives his attention also, and because I celebrate Chanukah, his interest in that, has also strengthened over time. As happens each year at this time, he is now sporting his usual Santa-style chapeau complimenting his graying beard and hair. Every year his beard and hair are more and more the proper color.
I see though that he is actually playing a role more like the Holly or Oak King, or Father Christmas than what we know as commercial Santa, but it is fun to see the looks of wonder and hear the greetings he receives from children, and to observe how adults have come to expect his embodiment of the Santa-type persona, and how they become more open and friendly when they encounter him.
We celebrate all three December holidays with which we are familiar, as well as Candlemas which is right about the time of Groundhog Day in February, and the Vernal Equinox in March, all of which help us here in the mountains where winter is long, to feel encouraged and reassured- today, just as they did the Ancestors, that the days will indeed again lengthen and warm to the time of the Summer Solstice when life is so much easier. Winter can seem to go on forever here, even with celebration and outdoor fun.
Speaking for myself, I still love Christmas; its’ story of a humble beginnings along with the music and art it has inspired over the centuries. What I value most about Christmas is the magical envisioning/mandate for Peace on Earth, with which I resonate down to my soul. There is a lot of value there for me, worth honoring when the secular commercialism and consumerism layer is peeled away.
My Mother, a Jew who raised us Christian so we could avoid the anti-Semitism she suffered, made sure however, that my sister and I knew the Chanukah story and that we were exposed to as many other aspects of our Jewish heritage as possible. I always felt more aware, as a Christian when I practiced Christianity, because of the added depth and breadth of her perspective. My late sister, taught Sunday school at our church and some folks removed their children from her class, in fact, BECAUSE she taught that Jesus was a Jew, which we know he was. (I know and honor that there are folks out there for whom Jesus’ existence is not necessarily a fact. I am speaking from what I was taught when I was growing up, within the faith I was taught in the church where I attended.)
I have been humbly celebrating Chanukah for years and years now, and am still seeking and learning and integrating more and more about it with each year’s celebration. I do this for myself, to honor my mother and to honor my ancestors. I am not simply picking and choosing when I am Jewish or when I am not. This celebration is simply a real and deeply rooted part of my life now, and after years of inclusion; I trust that the Divine knows my heart and therefore my intent.
Tuesday night I lit the first Chanukah candle on the Menorah, reciting the prayers of Thanksgiving for strength, support and sustenance through the centuries to the present. I struggle through the phonetic Hebrew, but also say the prayers using translations I have found over the years. I hope to strengthen my recital and understanding of the prayers so that years from now, I may say them properly and wholly, and well. For now, I am okay with doing my best, sincerely.
We made brisket and latkes, and then my husband made Sufganiot, which are homemade jelly donuts. Yum. And we continue to light the Menorah and celebrate each night till the entire holiday is complete in process and in heart.
Most folks are aware of the general story of Chanukah. They are aware of how against all odds, the Maccabees’ strength prevailed and even though their temple was desecrated, they managed to reclaim it and found one vessel of sacred, sanctified oil with which to light the temple Menorah again and rededicate the Temple, and by doing so, illuminated their faith and trust in the Divine. And most folks know that the vessel only contained enough oil for one day, while it miraculously lasted eight days.
What touched me deeply on the first night of Chanukah this year was a strong message, which tells anyone who wants to listen, to Resist Oppression; to Defy forced values that are against our very Core and Inner Knowing. I also learned from one source, and I don’t know how accurate it is, that the name “Maccabee” means something like, “strong like a hammer” (puts my pagan self in mind of Thor).
So what I received on a very deep level, was we must be strong like a hammer in our Resistance and Defiance whenever we are faced with Oppression, as many of us may feel that our country is going in a wrong and dangerous and yes, oppressive direction. Now more than ever, Chanukah carries potent and relevant meaning for me.
But here’s the kicker. As I was typing this, I received Inspiration that there was only one vessel of sacred fuel to sustain the Light of Reclamation and Rededication of the Temple. I suddenly realized that I am one vessel and I contain the fuel to faithfully sustain the Light of Rededication and Reclamation also- of my country, and of myself as an American who loves my America’s Spirit of Freedom and Right and Justice for ALL.
Right now, it may feel like there is only enough fuel within us, each a mere single vessel, for only one day’s light. Now we must go within, and find the way to move beyond that limitation of thought, and trust that we can find a wellspring of Maccabeean strength within, because we must through Resistance and Defiance, fuel the Light for as long as it takes to Reclaim and Rededicate the future for generations to come.