(c) Rabbi Menachem Creditor
As a Yeshivah high school student, I was told to not enjoy Christmas lights, "tainted" as they were by non-Jewish "cooties."
And, since I lived in a particularly lawn-obsessed neighborhood on Long Island, that meant ducking for cover every third house. The homes abutting my childhood shul were particularly hard to miss, with people driving from far away to witness a million-bulb spectacle, the carbon-footprint of which has yet to be determined.
When I got to college, though, something changed. First of all, the white lights adorning Columbia University's college walk didn't in the least resemble the garish ones I remembered. Secondly, I was done heeding the Jewish-insularists of my Yeshivah days. Most of all, I was a college student whose heart swelled with the romance in the college air - what could be more romantic than mystic lights on a cold winter night?
Which leads me to this thought. We, American Jewish parents, guardians of the faith, have a choice. Do we try to diminish the magic of the lights our children see? We don't stand a chance. And, furthermore, do we really not see the magic ourselves? Are we afraid of Christmas voodoo? Or, are we secretly, deep down, happy to see the lights on these dark nights?
So, if we are not going to pretend to not enjoy Christmas lights, let's really talk about what's going on. It's beautiful. Human beings ache for a magic that illuminates the darkness, that shines goodness into a sometimes cruel world. We don't need, as Jews, to be afraid of beauty. In fact, the more we try to look away, the stronger the magnetic pull of Christmas becomes. In America, it's everywhere. Sometimes garish, sometimes classy, sometimes commercial, sometimes spiritual. It's just there. Everywhere. We live in it. And it can be very, very hard.
So here's the thought: It was a blessing this year that Thanksgiving and Channukah coincided, a reminder to not confuse Channukah's modest lights with Christmas' spectacle-of-the-trees. If you are concerned that you and your children are becoming seduced by the lights, consider this: magic is desperately needed in this world.
Every Friday night and Saturday night Jews are caled to banish the darkness with fire, bringing primal creative force into the world. Have you ever looked at someone else's eyes looking into the Shabbat candles' flames? Shabbat is our magic. Its cheer is waiting to pervade your home and your heart every week. The world needs more light, more spirit, more goodness.
So love illumination when you encounter it, and let your precious Jewish light shine!