Blessings of the season

Hanukkah starts tonight, and right smack in the middle of our eight days, you’ll find that other Solstice celebration. I wrote the following for the Chicago Tribune a few years back, and have already posted it here once, but I think it’ll be my Annual Holiday Post – I like it! I hope you do, too.

Happy, Merry to all and sundry!

Blessings of the season

Emily L. Hauser

It’s about bringing light into dark places, isn’t it?

As I understand the winter holidays, our Holy Days, this is what they mean: Hope, life, tomorrow. Light, where there was none.

That’s what we mean at my house when we light our menorah, and that’s what we talk about with the kids. For eight nights, after saying the blessings, we sing a sweet, rousing song in Hebrew that announces to the darkness that it shall have no quarter: “Each of us is a small candle,” we sing. “Together, we are a great light.”

And though I am not a Christian, it seems to me that that is what Jesus’s birth means, too. Light in dark places, a small baby who brought hope to millions. “The weary world rejoices,” goes Oh Holy Night, one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, “for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

And Kwanza? I’m white, but it seems to me that lighting candles to remember the struggles of the Black people, to reflect on unity, and to anticipate the future triumph over oppression is a statement of hope most deep.

There is so much darkness in the world, there always has been. But God – or Nature, or our own collective Best Self – has given us the tools to drive it back. The Jewish tradition speaks of tikkun olam, repairing the world in conjunction with the Almighty. This is our job, our highest calling. To quote another song, “We’re one, but we’re not the same. We get to carry each other.”

And indeed, we are not the same. Our holidays are not the same, and even within our communities, our understanding of those holidays is not always the same. But in our own ways, we all seek a brighter tomorrow, a world without war, without hunger, without despair. And these holidays, even the ones that are not in my own heritage, can serve to remind me of that – as well as reminding me that there are many ways of battling evil and wrong, and that we need all of them.

We were created in a mighty multitude, and I believe God knew what He was doing when He made us different. Different brings creativity, it brings unknown joys, it brings solutions. I don’t need you to light candles at my house to believe that you are doing what you can to make the world a better place.

Every year at about this time, we hear over and over again, as we rush about our business,  that we don’t focus enough on “what really matters.” We hear from Jews who are sick of being wished a Merry Christmas, Christians who believe that one could, actually, take the Christ out of Christmas, and worshippers of the Simple who decry the cultural trappings of the whole thing. Our national anxiety about being made a victim comes to the top, and it isn’t pretty.

We need to stop. Take a nap, maybe have a cookie, and then look at each other. We’re trying our best, almost all of us, I’m certain. Sure we need to focus on “what really matters,” but bottom line, that’s what we’re trying to do.

We’re human, so sometimes we don’t do it very well. But I am certain that when my Christian neighbors tell me “Merry Christmas,” they’re just wishing me well. And when parents buy a lot of plastic for their kids, they’re just hoping for that up-from-the-gut smile that only a kid can give. Neither of these things are bad; neither of them can reduce in any way the power of the Divine to guide and comfort us.

And after all of this is behind us, it will be a new year. Let’s agree to fill it with hope, and with as much light as we can muster, for the victims of Katrina who are still without homes; for the people living with AIDS in African shanty-towns; for Israeli and Palestinian children who are growing up afraid; for the women of Darfur who cannot get water for their families for fear they will be raped. The world is a dark place; we are the ones who can bring the light in.

Emily L. Hauser is a freelance writer living in Oak Park.

(C) Chicago Tribune, 2005



  1. Oh, I like this so very much. Thank you.

  2. Ash Can

     /  December 20, 2011

    This rings a bell; I may have read it in the Trib when it was first published. Or it may just be because it so closely resembles my own feelings about the season.

    I’ve always thought that the pairing of the Christmas and Hanukkah holidays right around the shortest daylight-day of the year was a match made in heaven (literally). I know that Hanukkah is a relatively minor celebration that’s been blown out of proportion due to its proximity to Christmas. And I know that Christmas, which is only the number-two celebration of the liturgical year, has been blown out of proportion by rampant commercialism. Nevertheless, they are real celebrations in their own right, serve as strong encouragement for family and friends to get together and have a good time — and they involve lighting lights at the darkest time of the year.

    Menorah lights in windows and Christmas lights draped everywhere have always had the most wonderful symbolism to me. It’s as if our entire community was getting together for one time out of the year, to collectively thumb its nose at the prevailing darkness. With both hands. The fact that, as you observe, the Kwanzaa celebration adds its own candles this time of year makes the annual convergence of celebrations that much more joyful and meaningful. (What’s more, I also think of Kwanzaa candles as shining through the mists of time, illuminating an ancient heritage shamefully and horrifically obscured through one of humanity’s greatest crimes, and bringing it into the light for all to see.)

    Thanks for (re-)posting this delightful article, and here’s wishing you and yours a terrific Hannukah/New Year’s season, with lots of good company and good times.

    • Carl Färdig

       /  January 30, 2012

      I love you Rabbi! Thanks for being so positive. The world needs more people like you.

  3. Thanks for the hope you express. That’s one thing that shows our humanity: that we believe we can do better.

    To quote a famous author:

    “It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

    Plus, we can have a cookie every so often.

    All the blessings of the season to you, Emily.

  4. dmf

     /  December 20, 2011

    I just posted this over @ the On Being blog, more light, more connections!

  5. Bob

     /  December 20, 2011

    So say we all…

  6. The Hannukah story is also explicitly about light overcoming the challenge of darkness. And yet, like all Jewish holidays, it is tracked on a lunar calendar, not a solar one, and in particular a calendar that pegs beginnings and endings to the equinoxes, not the solstices. People are creative.

  7. dmf

     /  December 20, 2011

    Rabbi Michael Lerner has written a new book titled “Embracing Israel/Palestine: A Strategy to Heal and Transform the Middle East.”

  8. Happy and Merry to you too!

    In the time of greatest darkness, may you have light. In the cold months of the year, may you have warmth. The empty, poor days of winter stretch ahead; may your pockets, your larder, your hands, and your hearts all be full. The year ends amidst bells and clamor; may you all have peace, now and in the year to come.

  9. Great post. I’m not the religious sort, but I think you distill the season into what it *should* be. Have a great holiday-it has been fun getting to know you this year.

    • Likewise! What a funny old world the future is turning out to be. I like it here.

      Merry, happy and so on, and a beautiful new year to you and yours!