It is ritualized with a nightly lighting of the menorah, special prayers and food.
Each week the wife and I talk with two of our children—Ariana and David—via Zoom. They teach Performing Arts—and more—at an Australian Aboriginal school. Last week Ariana shared her experience at their school’s staff Christmas party. During obligatory Merry Christmas greetings, Ariana boldly affirmed her faith with “Happy Chanukah”. A hush fell across the room as questioning looks assaulted the faces of the Aussies. Someone finally said, “Is that something you celebrate in the states?” Instantly, she felt like an outsider and a stranger in the strange land.
Chanukah—an eight-day Jewish festival—means “dedication”. It is ritualized with a nightly lighting of the menorah, special prayers and food. It celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple.
In the second century BCE, the Holy Land was ruled by Syrian-Greeks who tried to force the people of Israel to replace their religion with Greek culture and gods. A small band of faithful Jews, led by Judah the Maccabee, defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God. It is a religious festival created to acknowledge an actual historical event.
Ancient Christians, however, artificially established a festival to commemorate the birth of Jesus by absorbing and discounting Saturnalia—a popular Roman winter festival honoring Saturn—the God of agriculture.
No historic event—other than the birth itself—accurately records Jesus’ birth. Even the Bible does not support the time his birth occurred. The sheep the shepherds were watching would not have been in the fields but securely gathered in pens for the winter. Even the Christmas Tree—an adopted symbol of everlasting life and a hope for the return of spring—is borrowed from Nordic, Celtic and Druid religions. The lunar calendar was not initiated by Jesus’s birth. Historical records place his birth sometime between 4 and 8 CE. The birth of Jesus occurred within the first several years of the newly established lunar calendar.
Even now the celebration of the birth of Jesus—codified by “religious exclusivity”—has declared “Merry Christmas” the only “proper” greeting during this time of year. Inclusive greetings—acknowledging other religions—are deemed improper. A Christian assumes that the recipient of his/her greeting is also a Christian—or should be.
Why is there such a fierce response to the use of universal greetings? Selfish fear! America is becoming religiously diverse. By 2030 Christianity will be a religious minority due to: falling membership in mainstream denominations not offset by a rise in attendance in conservative congregations; Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam have become an important part of the religious fabric of our society; many Native Americans are returning to their inherent faiths; new religions like Wicca—a diverse religion and part of Nature Spirituality—have surfaced; Christianity continues to parade a sense of exclusivity by acknowledging only one greeting.
More than ever, may the universal greeting—Peace Be with You—be heard.