I love December with all of its full-blown complexity. Besides entering into a real change of seasons, December contains more than the usual share of holidays. These festivities honor varying religious traditions, all of them meaningful, valid and relevant to particular members of the community. Hanukkah occurs sometime in December, moving around each calendar year. This year it falls between December 20 and 28th. In Judaism Hanukkah is a minor holiday, but it’s important to remember not only for its message of freedom and miracle making, but also as a corrective to the blinders that sometimes appear in the Christian and secular world that bring Christmas ubiquity and omnipresence. The winter solstice marks that inevitable turn of the star wheel at the darkest time of the year. It reminds us of the earth-centered traditions that find their way into other winter events. Advent and Christmas are holy days recognizing that birth, whether it be sacred or an ordinary miracle, is a recognition that life should go on, and recognized even in the “lowliest” of places. The African-American celebration of Kwanzaa brings together history, culture and family in a weeklong awareness.
I’m a big fan of Advent and Christmas and I find that I sometimes wrestle with an attempt to put the rest of the holiday observances in a month already chock-full. And yet, I can’t imagine loving Christmas like I do in a religious tradition that didn’t hold some sort of place for the diversity of faith traditions. When my kids were little, we would always light the menorah and say a blessing for the day. I think I confused them at the time—for a number of years they thought we were Jewish. As adults, they have a more mature understanding that we placed value on respecting the wisdom from the world’s traditions that inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life. My kids’ dad celebrates his birthday on the 21st of December, and solstice traditions were inherent in that midwinter day.
This season is a reminder for me also of the great diversity of belief and expression of these holidays. I know there is a great chance that you will not be in sync with me and so I am challenged to keep an open mind for the way you do the holidays. Regardless of whether you do them up with visits from family, piles of generosity, or a simplicity of activity and spirit, let me wish you well. I wish you every kind of happiness at this time of year, and I pray for you to have everything that makes you more whole. Most of all, I wish you peace—deep, deep peace.