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(HOST) At this time of year quite a few different holiday and religious traditions share the calendar quite comfortably, and commentator Madeleine Kunin thinks that this is no coincidence.

(KUNIN) On this, the longest night of the year, we instinctively turn our eyes to the lights of Hanukkah and the lights of Christmas for solace, for cheer, and for warmth.

Did our spiritual forbearers celebrate these holidays, one for Jews, and one for Christians, because they understood, that on this, the time of the winter solstice, we need lights to guide us, to rekindle hope, and perhaps, to chart a new course?Both holidays tend to be blended together, but their stories are different.

Hanukkah began in 165 B.C., long before Christ was born.

The story is simple.

The temple in Jerusalem had been desecrated by the Syrians. After the battle, Judah Maccabee and his soldiers went to the temple to cleanse and restore it.

Wishing to thank God, they lit the menorah, a candleabra. They found enough oil to light the menorah for one night. Miraculously, it burned for eight nights and that is why on Hanuakkah, one more candle is lit each night, for eight nights.

This is the miracle of Hanukkah — a beautiful blaze of lights.

On Christmas, we celebrate the miracle of Christ’s birth. In every depiction of the Holy Family in the manger, a holy light embraces Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

We sometimes equate Hanukkah with Christmas because of the commercialization of both holidays.

But both the old and new testaments tell us that they are not the same. Yet, there are similarities.

Both stories are set in the Middle East, one in Jerusalem and the other in Bethlehem.

The miracle that they celebrate is peace.

Hanukkah with the celebration of victory after battle — giving thanks to God for the gift of peace.

At Christmas, Christ is heralded as the Prince of Peace.

Christian and Jew pause to pray, to give thanks to God, to re-dedicate them selves to peace on earth, good will towards men.

In the year 2006 A.D. it is such a miracle that we seek, once again, to release us from the sounds and sights of war.

The most troubled parts of the world are still found in or near the Middle East, Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur.

Death and destruction greet us each night on the news, and each morning in the headlines.

We ask, can we create light in the darkness, can we ignite hope by lighting our candles and dispelling the gloom.

The human desire for peace on earth is as strong as it was before Christ was born. Today we look for answers, to show us the way, to find peace on earth in our time. Are miracles still possible? They have happened before, so long ago. We have to believe that peace can be celebrated, once again, in the year 2006.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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