Friday, December 08, 2006

December From A Jewish Perspective

My writing routine doesn't change in December because Chanukah is not a holiday when I feel the need to be at the synagogue or with family each day. This month, life goes on as usual - kids' activities, taking care of the house, working on interfaith efforts and getting my writing in.

Some think Chanukah is just as important to Jews as Christmas is to Christians. Actually, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath are the most holy for us. I put my writing on hold during Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkoth and Passover because there is so much to prepare and do.

Jews celebrate Chanukah to remember our freedom from people who wished to destroy us. Chanukah falls on the 25th day of the Hebrew month of Kislev. Because Jews follow a lunar calendar in determining the holidays, Chanukah will always fall on the 25th day of Kislev but it will not be the exact same day every year on the secular calendar. Therefore, some years, Chanukah may fall closer to Thanksgiving. Other times, it's at the beginning of December, or like this year, ending close to Christmas Eve.

Because of the Christmas hype at shopping malls, we feel pressure to buy presents, especially when Chanukah and Christmas fall within days of each other. However, the traditional Chanukah gift is money. In our family, we try to play down the gift-giving. We focus on lighting candles, letting our children pick the candle colors and lighting their own Chanukah menorah. We start with one candle the first night, two the second night and so on until all 8 candles are lit by the eighth night. Playing dreidal (a spinning top with Hebrew letters) is fun. Frying up latkes, potato pancakes and eating them with sour cream and applesauce is a treat.

While many around us are celebrating Christmas, what do we do on Christmas itself? My husband usually covers for the other doctors in his practice. He will make rounds at the hospital and be on call for emergencies. (His partners cover for him when it's a Jewish holiday.) As a family, we might go to the movies. Some years we have delivered cookies to firefighters who have to work on Christmas or we have delivered for Meals on Wheels.

Some of the best things I like about Christmas: the stores are closed, there is not much traffic, it is a time when everyone can just relax even if we're not celebrating the holiday. These aspects remind me of the Jewish Sabbath. Shabbat was meant to be one day of rest every week. When we don't drive around, we give the environment a Sabbath. When we don't shop, we concentrate more on our spirituality and family. When we don't work, we can be stress free and reflect on what's important in our lives. When our whole country is taking a day off for Christmas, it feels like what the Sabbath was meant to be every week.

- Sheila Sonnenschein


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