My favorite Christmas and also Chanukah celebrations growing up have been all about singing.
I was a Jewish girl growing up in a mostly Christian town. Fortunately my mother was a strong supporter of celebration, whatever the religion. We hung up stockings on our fireplace, and thrilled to see presents. I was sure every Christmas that I heard Santa on the rooftop. But the most special activity for me centered on singing joyful Christmas melodies. Caroling in our New England town was a moving spiritual experience even for a young Jewish child.
Chanukah also had it's songs. Fortunately as the years have gone on the traditional medley of eight or so main tunes has been sustained, and at the same time has been augmented by luscious additional melodies. Singer-songwriter Julie Geller, for instance, in the video below, sings an inspiring updated version of one of my favorite traditional tunes, Al Hanisim, "On the Miracles..."
[If the video did not come through on your server, click here. The song is well worth hunting down.]
Julie's song centers on the miracle that traditional rabbis have encouraged Jewish people to focus on in the Chanukah holiday. This central miracle of the holiday was that light from a small vessel of oil lasted for a full eight days and nights. Light stands for learning, for studying the Jewish wisdom tradition, for spiritual growth, and for joy that can penetrate even the deepist times of darkness.
At the same time, Chanukah celebrates also a military victory, a miraculous victory of a small band of Jewish citizens who stood up to the tyranical Greek-Assyrian armies that had invaded and were ruling over the country that now is called Israel. The Jewish resistance fighters were fighting for the right of Jews to sustain and celebrate their traditions and customs.
How appropriate at this time of year for all of us to treasure our cultural heritages. Given that so many Jews and Chrisitans have formed intermarried units, it's all the more vital to remember the importance of Christian and Jewish traditions. Both celebrate joy, light, festivity, and celebration. Each religious tradition carries its history and conveys its moral lessons through its holiday activities.
May we treasure together all of these meaningful sacred times...and most of all, may all of us join together in singing!
Susan Heitler, Ph.D., is the author of many books, including From Conflict to Resolution and The Power of Two. She is a graduate of Harvard University and New York University.