Two holidays

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(HOST) This year Christmas and Hannukkah fall on the same day, and although the two remain very different celebrations, commentator Madeleine Kunin says that the date isn’t all they have in common.

(KUNIN) Two holidays, Christmas and Hanukkah brighten dark December.

This year, through an unusual convergence of the Hebrew calendar and the Gregorian calendar, both holidays will fall on the same day, the 25th of December and the 25th of Kislev.The temptation will be to celebrate them together because there will be the same number of shopping days left before each holiday begins. Putting commercialism aside, and religion out front, it’s clear that the two holidays are very different.

Hanukkah has been elevated in importance in recent years as a result of the more lavish gift giving at Christmas. In the hierarchy
of Jewish holidays, it is not at the top.

Christmas, in contrast, is right up there, celebrating the birth of Christ, the event that marks the beginning of Christianity.

Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and celebrates a Jewish victory against the Greeks, who had tried to force them to bow to idols and give up Judaism.Judah Maccabbee was the triumphant hero who – after the final battle – went to the temple with his soldiers and found it ransacked. To celebrate their freedom they wanted to light the menorah but found only enough oil to last for one day.

The miracle of Hanukkah was that the oil lasted for eight days, an event commemorated today by lighting an additional candle each night.

The miracle of Christmas, of course, is the birth of Christ in a manger, heralded by the three wise men.

Both are miracles, but the stories – and their significance – are different. These biblical stories from the old and new testaments leave little room for comparison. Yet, there are similarities, some of which have been created by modern times, and some of which have evolved by our need to believe in miracles, our desire to light the darkness.

Both are festivals of light.Christmas lights, Hanuakkah lights. Both holidays express themselves through music. The melody of Rock of Ages is sung on Hanukkah, carols at Christmas. Then there is the grand music, inspired by religion, Handel’s Messiah, Verdi’s Requiem, Bach’s B minor Mass.

Christianity is the theme in these timeless works but the power and timelessness of the music dissolve the lines that divide one religion from another.

In December when night falls early, we are grateful for the sounds and lights of holidays, for the celebrations that bring us together, with family and friends, around the tree, around the menorah.It is then, that we can find comfort in a troubled world, and discover joy.

This is Madeleine May Kunin.

Madeleine May Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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