For many Americans, the festival of Chanukah, which began at sundown tonight, is a blue-tinseled version of Christmas as they participate in the consumer frenzy of the holiday season in a somewhat futile attempt to compete with the appeal of the latter. Some have even merged the two into a hybrid celebration they call “Chrismakah,” in which both Judaism and Christianity are given short shrift. Equally unappealing is the way that some on the Left have drafted the Festival of Light into the ranks of the environmental movement by attempting to make it a “green” holiday, in which energy conservation and hysteria about global warming are the keynotes.
Though the tension between the parochial aspects of the faith and its more universalist tendencies is as old as Judaism itself, Chanukah is not an empty metaphor into which other narratives or unrelated themes — whether praiseworthy or not — can be poured at will. Far from being a Jewish version of “goodwill toward men” or some trendy contemporary cause, the original story of Chanukah is about something very different: the refusal of a people to bow down to the idols of the popular culture of their day — their resolve to remain separate and faithful to their own traditions.
The miracle of Chanukah is more than a story of oil that lasted for eight days instead of one. The true story of the Festival of Light is one of a particularly bloody Jewish civil war whose outcome has stood ever since as a warning against the perils of discarding faith and freedom in order to conform to the dictates of more popular ideological movements. This is a lesson that applied to the Maccabees, who sought to resist the pull of Hellenism more than 2,000 years ago, as well as to those fighting back against the siren song of totalitarian ideas in the last century. The sacrifices of the sons of Mattathias are a reminder that we too must continue to ensure that the lamp of liberty here and around the globe is never extinguished.
As much as the specific religious message of the holiday ought to resonate with Jews, this element of faithfulness and resistance against the pull of both fashion and conventional wisdom is one that can inspire everyone, no matter their faith or origin. With that in mind, we wish all of our readers a Happy Chanukah!