06 December 2007

Riddle Me This

This week, they've been "studying" Hanukkah at our daycare. On Monday, the kids made menorahs - eight marshmallows stuck to a paper plate with frosting, with two stacked marshmallows for the shamash, and popsicle sticks for the candles. She ate hers for a snack Monday evening. On Tuesday, they had latkes for lunch. Sometime yesterday, Miss M. asked if we could light candles - more, I think, because she wants to blow them out, but spurred to ask by the Hanukkah discussions at school.

In scooting around on the web, looking for explanations of Hanukkah, I found this odd tidbit: A festival in which the right of every person to follow their own religion is celebrated.

As I've said before, I'm a Christmas-loving heathen atheist. I grew up in an non-religious household - we went to the beach every Sunday in the summer, and to the skating rink every Sunday in the winter. But we always celebrated Christmas, with aplomb - presents spread halfway across the living room, roast goose, five pound sacks of pistachios, and an enormous party on Christmas Eve every year.

Given the heathen atheist business, one could argue that my celebration of Christmas is hypocritical. However, Christmas as we know it also celebrates the winter solstice, the new year, the cyclical nature of time And, it uses elements from many non-Christian sources in its celebratory traditions: the exchange of gifts, the indoor decoration of a tree, the feasting and general revelry.

So, riddle me this: Since Miss M. has asked to light candles for Hanukkah, why shouldn't we? Why shouldn't we incorporate a menorah and eight nights of candles into our winter, December, holiday celebrations?


Jessica said...

i grw up in a household very similar to yours. why not light the candles? i say let's celebrate every holiday we can. i saw a newspaper column maybe 15 years ago about all these holidays a this time of the year and the things they all had in common, rebirth, return of the son/sun, lights, the cycle of time. let's celebrate it all

Life As I Know It said...

I'm also a "Christmas-loving heathen atheist".
The holiday has pagan roots, like you said, celebrating the solstice, winter, family and friends...so that's how I justify our Christmas celebration.
Absolutely, you should light those candles! Peace on earth and all that jazz...

Irish Goddess said...

Oh, I would absolutely do it! Mennorahs are so lovely, and something about a lit candle brings out feelings of spirituality and peace. Anything that makes us stop and reflect and appreciate - well, we need more of that. Go for it!

flutter said...

ok, why not?

Julie Pippert said...

It's your house, your family, your traditions. You are the sort of people who would do it nicely. :)

As to why not...

The only thing about some religious ceremonies and so forth is that they are very special to some people. They are rich with meaning and reflective of their faith and belief.

People doing them for a kick or just because or without understanding or doing them improperly might be upsetting to some of these people.

I think the without understanding or improperly is the bit that is most likely to upset.

I've also heard people get a bit upset about "cafeteria religion" as in picking and choosing the parts you like or think are fun and doing that---I think their point is that it doesn't reveal reverence or respect.

IMO, I agree with irish goddess that it can be so enriching to learn about other beliefs and stop, pause, reflect and gain some appreciation, peace and wonder. I think with respect it is fine.

So enjoy. :)

And what a neat idea at the preschool, teaching about different traditions and beliefs. :)

Using My Words

Waiting Amy said...

Wow Julie, I don't think I could have said it better. I'm a heathen atheist too, but my spouse is Jewish and we have agreed to celebrate the Jewish holiday in our home and raise our son Jewish.

While I would not be offended, I could see that my MIL might be over hearing something like this. But I agree that when done with proper reverance and respect, to most progressive people it would be acceptable.

We lit the candles tonight and J loves the holiday. Cudos to you for being open to expanding you family's horizons.

Antropóloga said...

Knowing what I know about Attis and the Mithraic cults and the like makes it very hard for me to take Christianity seriously. But I do think the American traditions are fun. I think doing those that are not your own tradition (e.g. Hanukkah stuff) is fine as long as you do make an effort to acknowledge their significance to others.

alejna said...

I'm in favor of incorporating the candle-lighting. I think that respectful exposure to different religions and customs broadens the mind, and will be good for Miss M.

I'm another Christmas-loving heathen atheist, though. (Do they make cards for us?)

thrice said...

I think it's great. Most Jews don't know why light candles. Maybe you can share the story of the Macabees and their military victory. http://www.njop.org/html/chanuland.htm

S. said...

Hey Magpie, thanks for sending me the link! Sorry I'm just getting back to you now.

I grew up in a leftie Christian family, but my school (though secular) was mostly Jewish, and in my house we played dreidl, though we didn't light a menorah. I did light with friends at their homes, probably most years. And then, you know, I converted. And now I connect menorahs.

Here's the thing about adopting it into a family that doesn't do any other Jewish observance: Hanukkah's not about honoring everyone's right to worship as they choose, though of course I understand why that interpretation would appeal to an interfaith website.

It's about zealous Jews fighting back against religious and political oppression and winning, and so it's a little odd to pull it out of the whole context of Jewish history.

It's also a little odd to pull it out of the Jewish religious calendar, since it's a holiday about celebrating another holiday.

Looking beyond the obvious human importance of light in the darkness, the lights are about rededicating the Temple in order to celebrate Sukkot, a major festival that had been forbidden under Syrian rule.

Maybe if you adopted Hanukkah and Sukkot?

niobe said...

I dunno. Of course, you can celebrate whatever holidays your family wants to and the lights of Hanukkah are certainly pretty, but I can definitely see how some people might feel a little uncomfortable with this.

You have to understand where I'm coming from. My mother is Jewish, but has always made a big point of celebrating the Christian holidays. We decorated Easter eggs, had a Christmas tree, stockings, a creche, Advent calendar, Christmas carols, the whole thing.

Her justification was that Christmas was mostly a secular or pagan holiday and that, in any event, the religious aspects were irrelevant, since we didn't believe in them.

My feeling, from a very early age, was that, whatever its origins, Christmas had become a primarily Christian holiday and that it was somehow wrong for us to use the symbols that "belonged" to the Christians.

Oddly, I don't think I'd feel that way about Christmas if my family background was nominally Christian, even if I had been brought up without any religious affiliation.

But that's just my view.

Liz Miller said...

I'm secularly Jewish and in my opinion, there is absolutely no reason to not celebrate the loveliness that is Hannukah.

It's celebrating the victory of the Jews over people who forbade them from practicing their religion and who defiled the temple.

The more people who love and appreciate the beautiful aspects of the world's religions, the fewer who will hate those who practice those religions (or who don't practice any religion).

If you want a good recipe for Latkes, I'll be posting one tomorrow.

Victoria said...

I'm a Christmas-loving heathen agnostic (not quite atheist, yet) and one year when my Boy was four, we had did a menorah. I'm not sure my Catholic husband was amused, but my son was interested in exploring relgions (much like your little one is) and asked. How could we say no?

Like the others said, I think if you're choosing to do it with respect and reverence for the religon, then why not?

Anonymous said...

as your childhood Jewish bf I would be very upset if you didn't "light the candles". Some of my best Xmas memories were at your lovely home. The lifesavers crushed for stained glass windows of magnificent ginger bread houses, the smokehouse almonds bought for your mom, the liquor drenched fruit from the giant glass jar saved for ice cream, all the wonderful people and friends. Caroling through our town with all of our friends (I think I hummed through the Christ parts), decorating your tree. All the wonderful memories of sharing our different holidays together were very important. The reason we light those candles is to commemorate how we Jews won the day against great odds so we could practice our religion. Really, it is a celebration of choice and freedom. And what could be wrong with that? Instead of removing all religion--or even a choice of atheism--why not include everybody?
Happy Chrismahanawanza!

Furrow said...

I'm all for celebrating extra holidays that don't emphasize gifts. As a Christmas-ambivalent heathenish agnostic, I like the festivities and music and charitable sense around Christmas, but I get all grinchy about the crazy commercial stuff. I don't know how exactly to package the spirit of Christmas for my Zo when she gets older.

Are they going to study Kwanzaa, too?

dawn224 said...

Why not? I'm tempted to take Alex to as many kinds of churches (using that incorrectly as an all inclusive term) as I can find.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

I agree with Julie on this one.

It's easy to light candles without it being part of Hanukkah. My (Christian) family always put a single candle in each window. It wasn't part of any religious aspect of Christmas -- I think it had more to do with fighting off the chill and darkness of winter.

Emily said...

No reason not to, as long as you are doing it in the spirit of the holiday. To do it just for more presents debases the religion, but to do it in celebration of freedom of religion sounds good to me.

nonlineargirl said...

(Secular Jew, chiming in:) I have not heard of Chanukah as a celebration of religious freedom, but it is a celebration of a miracle. For a child, that might be more meaningful - the temple was sacked, only one day's worth of oil remained, but wow! it lit the eternal flame for 8 days.

Lighting the candles can be nice, even for non-jews. It isn't like my 2 year old understands why we are doing it, but she likes it. For symbolic, not religious reasons I'd discourage blowing out the candles. Whether you explain the flame as a miracle, a nod to religious tolerance, a seasons-shift marker, or whathaveyou, I like the idea that we let things take their natural course, by letting the candles burn on their own. (Also, it isn't a birthday celebration. For those that believe, that's what Christmas is, right?)

By the way, in the Jewish calendar Chanukah is a minor holiday, made into a bigger thing, I think mostly to make Jewish kids not so much feel the sting of "he knows if you've been good or bad".