Tradition is like Poetry. The beauty of a tradition is its richness of texture and its capacity to offer us different interpretations on each reading. Although most modern definitions of tradition tell us that it is simply a method of handing down the beliefs and customs of one generation to the next, I believe tradition fills an even more important role of bringing order to a world filled with disorder.
Before there was an Internet, and who can remember a time without Google search to answer all our questions?, before there were books, before there were clay tablets with Cuneiform script, before anything at all there was chaos and darkness. And so began oral stories to bring the world out of disorder and into the light.
Indeed, all the known stories which have passed down to us begin with Chaos and Darkness. Since most Earthlings are a seasonal species ("A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted"), we have stories for each season and made the time of the telling of those stories into Holy Days.
Flickr-User: The Blot.
The winter festival was celebrated by pagans for millennia. Each different culture took events in their history that happened at mid-winter and folded it into the winter celebration. For early Christians, it was the birth of their Christ on winter solstice day in the Julian Calendar. The early Christian Church banned the celebration as pagan but in the past few hundred years the tradition was revived until we see it in its form today.
Just as the Christians had their 12 days of Christmas, the Jews had to have their holiday but at wholesale, not 12 days bubele, but for you, only 8 days. So too, in Jewish tradition the event of the miracle of the oil after the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus IV Epiphanes was folded into the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
As I said at the beginning of this post, Tradition is like Poetry. And so it is with Chanukkah. In my previous post Chanukah 2006 - The Carnival of Lights I listed dozens of different interpretations of the Hanukah story.
Over at the Lilith Blog the question is asked, Is Hanukkah the New Christmas?
Did you know that more than 80% of Israelis, the majority of whom are secular, light candles every night of Hanukkah? The practice has apparently become, for many, a cultural act, devoid of religious meaning, much like Hanukkah’s Christian counterpart, Christmas, has become for Americans. We can learn from this phenomenon that people like getting presents, lighting fires and eating foods that are bad for them, whether or not doing so is commanded by God.
I think it is a good thing for those who are not religious to celebrate religious holidays even if done in a secular way. Non-believers who pooh-pooh Christmas or Hanukkah are making a big mistake. Humans are different from the animals in only one respect. We tell stories. And no modern stories have the poetic force and texture as do our religious traditions. So pick a holiday to mark the beginning of winter. Light the fires, put up a Christmas tree or Hanukkah Bush, sing songs and dance and feast. If you "Bah, Humbug!" you do so at your peril; your soul will wither in the Winter.
Where others see the miracle of Chanukah solely in the jug of oil which lasted eight nights instead of one, Angel over at Woman Honor Thyself, sees the miracle of Man.