Hanukkah: Festival of Lights

Ketzirah in the Fairy Lights (c 2000)

Ketzirah in the Fairy Lights (c 2000)

So I’m sitting here listening to Matisyahu rock it on the Miracle remix EP and thinking about Hanukkah.  I’ve been having this nearly heretical thought lately.  I know, not shocking for me — but go with it.

Hanukkah is the festival of lights – right?

The solstice aspect and the reviving of the light is even older than the Maccabee aspect, if you think about it.  There’s certainly ancient midrash about Adam at the solstice and such.  The central ritual activity is lighting the 9-branch menorah called a Hanukkiah. Just about everything else we added on over the centuries, which is just fine.

But let’s go back to that light thing again.  It’s the festival of lights….

Okay, so here’s what I’m thinking about.  All those super pretty lights, preferably the white ones – not the tacky color ones, that our Christian neighbors put up this time of year.  Yeah…we have the festival of lights, but they put up the lights? I know it could be seen as the height of assimilation, but what if we adopted white lights on our homes too.  It seems like the urge to put all those lights and candles up all springs from a deep mythic place where we are all afraid of the dark.  Where we’re all afraid that the sun really won’t come back and it will just keep getting darker and darker.

I know when I walk home during the winter I’m so grateful for all those lights.  They push back the darkness.  The remind me, even the tacky ones, that I have neighbors and I’m not alone in the world. Someone must be there to make those lights  happen right?

Trust me, I’m not for the Christmas-ization of Hanukkah.  I had a “Hanukkah Bush” when I was a kid.  It makes me a bit ill in retrospect. There’s just no way that tacky white plastic tree had anything to do with the Jewish wheel of the year. But lights I think we have a pretty valid claim on.  I know traditional Judaism likes to put as many walls between us and breaking mitzvot as they can, but would some pretty white lights be so wrong during these dark days?

Carly Lesser (a.k.a. Ketzirah – קצירה) is Kohenet, Celebrant and artist whose  passion is helping Jews who are  unaffiliated, earth-based or in interfaith / inter-denominational relationships connect more deeply with Judaism and make it relevant in their every day lives. She is an active blogger and prayer leader on OneShul.org andPeelaPom.com.

About Ketzirah

Ketzirah is a Kohenet, Celebrant, and artist. She works with individuals and groups to explore, discover, and create meaningful rituals and ritual artwork to mark moments in life.

  • Tim

    Go for it! We did simple blue lights in the front window of our house last year.

  • Jenny Star

    Most of the Christmas celebration is, in fact, taken from other, older celebrations – including every single traditional decoration they use. So unless you’re putting up decorations with specifically Christian/Christmas-oriented iconography, in my own personal opinion you can say you are decorating for whatever winter holiday you choose. I don’t like hanging lights myself, but I like hanging shiny blue and silver tinsel around the house, because I like shiny things.

  • red

    We do blue lights as well and it looks great!