Here’s a friendly reminder that there are a variety of holidays this time of year that are just as important to each person celebrating their own beliefs, or not. When we say, “Happy Holidays!” we mean all of them!
Did you know that there is no one correct way to spell Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights? It can be written as Hanukah, Chanukah, Hannukah, or several other ways. I particularly love the ambiguity of this since it reminds me of two important concepts. First, that an assumed fact (even just the spelling of a holiday) can be interpreted differently depending on your perspective, and secondly, there is no right answer when it comes to beliefs. Religious freedom is enshrined in the First Amendment of our constitution, and the ACLU of Virginia works tirelessly to protect everyone’s religious liberty, which includes the right to celebrate the holiday season however you wish. In the Jewish tradition, Hanukkah is one of the earliest examples of people fighting against government interference in religious celebrations.
When I was growing up, my sisters and I used to fight about the candle colors we would select each night to light the menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum used specifically during the eight nights of Hanukkah. I was partial to the traditional blue ones, my middle sister requested red, and my youngest sister fought for green. As a forced compromise, we always ended up with a beautiful rainbow of colors that burned for hours. As I watched this same process occur with my young nephews, I was struck by the beauty and symbolism of this simple tradition. The lights of the menorah are exponentially more beautiful when they encompass every color. I hope this is a lesson that my nephews will also come to cherish as they continue to learn about the world.
The message of Hanukkah has a universal resonance, one that I hope unites us all as human beings who care about the world we live in and celebrate and protect each other’s differences. For me, this holiday is meaningful because it reminds me that we must continuously find the strength to overcome adversity, just as Judah Maccabee did 2,500 years ago when he and his family fought for their own right to worship as they chose.
This celebration also illustrates that we each must serve as a light in the darkness, for ourselves and for others. Each night of Hanukkah, Jews across the world recite the same blessings and welcome the miracle of light into their homes. Candle by candle, they kindle the flames of hope, perseverance, gratitude and freedom and recommit to these values for the year ahead.
Hanukkah is one of my favorite holidays because I find so many parallels between its message and the ACLU’s mission. In fact, the ninth branch of the menorah is called the shamash, or helper candle, and is used to light all the other candles. Much like the ACLU of Virginia, the shamash is present to lift up the other candles and stand guard should any of the other lights falter.
We at the ACLU of Virginia wish you a festive holiday season filled with light and freedom.