In a world of instant technology, sensory overload, and a commercialized holiday season, it can be easy to forget the many reasons why this time of year is held dear by so many people! While the traditions live on and celebrations are just as relevant and significant today as they were in the past, many of the holidays celebrated by people around the world have amazing historical roots.
This week saw the beginning of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. Personally, I LOVE holidays and always have. You can find me wearing festive-coloured clothing or baking seasonally-appropriate desserts, no matter the holiday! But when it came to Hanukkah, though I have always been excited to know that, for those 8 days, each one held an extra special meaning for thousands of people around the world, my knowledge of the festival was rather sparsely limited to the “Dreidel, Dreidel, Driedel” song that I had learned as a child, and the bits of the Hanukkah story that I could piece together from the valiant efforts of Ross Gellar’s “Holiday Armadillo” (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, than you NEED to watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qCowrXGwdjs And then go watch the episode in its entirety!). It wasn’t until I took a course on the “Hellenistic and Roman Near East” and we learned about the Maccabean revolt that the whole thing made sense! Finally I could hear the story, see the archaeology, and put the whole thing into context.
So while I could write a long history lesson here, I’m going to let others do the storytelling for me; the “Chanukah Guide for the Perplexed” is a list of 15 fascinating facts, figures, and stories about Chanukah’s history and how it relates to its past, present, and future, from the basics (What is Chanukah? What do the eight lights stand for?) to the unexpected (What do the Maccabees have to do with an American Military Academy?). Or my personal favourite, #15:
“Chanukah has a special significance in Montana these days. In Billings in 1993, vandals broke windows in homes that were displaying menorahs. In a response organized by local church leaders, more than 10,000 of the city’s residents and shopkeepers put make-shift menorahs in their own windows, to protect the city’s three dozen or so Jewish families. The vandalism stopped.” (New York Times, Dec. 4, 2009, Eric Stern, senior counselor to Gov. Brian Schweitzer).
Because, regardless of religion or culture, celebrations of light and joy unite us all, reminding us of our similarities, our common humanity.
The “Chanukah Guide for the Perplexed”: http://www.algemeiner.com/2013/11/27/chanukah-guide-for-the-perplexed-2013/