I would like to get the bumper sticker that says, “Keep Christ in Christmas,” but I am afraid that people would take it the wrong way.
My reasoning: The more that Christmas becomes secularized, the more that church and state boundaries get confused and the more lawn decorations, Santa, gifts and fruitcakes become center stage.
While the effect on non-Christians is that secularized-Christmas (and sometimes not so secularized) enters our public buildings and school concerts, I will also note that I have had numerous conversations with religious Christians about how they mourn the materialism that is Christmas today.
To be fair, I would also like to create a bumper sticker that says “Keep God in Chanuka.” (I know, it’s not quite as catchy.) When we tell the Chanuka story, the miracle of the oil takes center stage and not the fight for Judaism. Sometimes, we even forget Mattathias’ cry, “Whoever is for God, follow me!”
Yet, given that the heroes — the Maccabees — did not remain heroes for long since they themselves became corrupt, the rabbis tell the Chanuka story through a different lens. Both in Al HaNisim, the prayer inserted into the Amida, and through the choice of Torah and Haftara portions specific to Chanuka, God plays the leading role, not the Maccabees.
We need to follow the rabbis’ lead because if Chanuka is primarily about lighting the Chanukia (menora), latkes, sufganiot (jelly doughnuts) and dreidels, we would ironically follow in the Maccabees’ footsteps, having lost our way.
So where does God fit into Chanuka today? In our homes, when we prioritize family time, and gather together to light the Chanukia (even via Skype if your kids live in distant cities); in the gifts that we give that help the recipient grow as a person and as a Jew; in our practice of Judaism, when the blessings over the candles take precedent over oil-laden food; in spinning the dreidel not as a ruse as it had been for the Syrian Greek soldiers, but as a fun game knowing that we truly win when the Torah is at our center.
May you have a happy, meaningful Chanuka.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)