Despite the fact that the observance of Chanukah involves the lighting of candles and Christmas has become known for its show of lights, often Jews and Christians alike find themselves spiritually in the dark during these winter holidays. It’s difficult to feel enlightened by holiday observances when the meaningful or spiritual components of these holy days have been forsaken for the rush of purchasing, giving and receiving gifts alone. In fact, opening presents turns into an empty act when the giving and receiving are not accompanied by an overall meaningful and spiritual holiday atmosphere and attitude.
While both the Jewish and Christian holiday stories revolve around miracles, which means they stress the hand of God in human affairs, many people observing Christmas and Chanukah find these holidays have become less about religion and spirituality and more about consumerism. For Jews confronted at every turn with Christmas decorations, music, presents, parties, and messages, Chanukah, a holiday that historically has not been a time for gift-giving, has turned into a competition with Christmas rather than a remembrance of a battle for religious freedom and the miracle of the oil lamp. For many Christians, Christmas has become more about home decorations, Santa Claus and shopping for gifts than about the miraculous birth of Jesus or a connection to their faith.
Just as the Maccabi’s fought back against the Syrians desire to assimilate them into their religion and way of life, today Jews and Christians who want to get more out of the winter holidays than presents must fight to find ways to put meaning and spirituality back into Chanukah and Christmas. When we find our holiday rituals, such as lighting the Chanukah candles or setting up our Christmas tree devoid of meaning or spiritual context, we can take steps to transform our empty observances into ‘meaning-full and spirit-full’ rituals and traditions. It is possible to instill the lighting of the Chanukah candles or the giving of Christmas gifts with meaning and to make these rituals a spiritual practice for ourselves and for the whole family.
To make this winter’s holidays meaningful, follow these three steps:
1. Research or review why these holidays are observed and what they really are about. To make your holiday observance meaningful, find some aspect of the holiday that has personal meaning for you or some religious symbolism or history that resonates with you. For Jews, this might be the Maccabee’s fight for freedom. For Christian’s it might be the birth of Christ.
2. Pick a prayer or ritual used when observing the holiday ‘ such as lighting the Chanukah candles or lighting the star on the top of your Christmas tree, and learn exactly how to perform the ritual or say the prayer. If no set ritual already exists, create one yourself.
3. Perform the ritual or say the prayer while keeping the meaning in mind. If you do this, your observance miraculously becomes meaningful.
To make Chanukah and/or Christmas celebrations spiritual, don’t forget this step:
4. Create a sacred space within which to set your chanukiah, the special menorah used on Chanukah, or to place your Christmas tree or manger scene. This step can be as simple as placing a special table cloth on the table where you place your holiday candles or decorations, burning incense in the room where you will be giving gifts or lighting the chanukiah, or saying a prayer invoking the Divine Presence to join you for your holiday gift giving or meals.