Today’s synonyms for light are clear / lucent. It has become a common practice today for people to greet one another throughout the month of December by saying, “Happy Holidays.” It is wonderful that we live in a culture that is so inclusive and understanding of the multitude of faith traditions that live in our world. Unfortunately, we have become such a faith melting pot, that we have begun to see our symbols meld, and in towns across the United States we see the “holiday tree” adorning the town square. I think as part of exploring the theme of light, it is important to bring some clarity into what the tree is meant to represent rather than viewing it as merely a symbol of the season. Symbols are an important enrichment to the holiday and overly neutralizing them can dilute the character that makes a holiday enriching to those who celebrate it.
Here are what the Christmas symbols historically represent:
The wood of the tree – the cross
The 5-pointed star – the star which the wise men followed to find the baby Jesus
The tinsel – angel’s’ hair
The color red – the blood of Jesus
Christmas presents – the gifts brought by the wise men to the baby Jesus
(special thanks to Rabbi Beal for sharing this information in an article)
Here are what the Chanukah symbols historically represent:
The Chanukiah (or Chanukah menorah) – the miracle of the eight days of burning oil when the ner tamid (eternal flame) was lit to rededicate the Temple
Potato Latkes or Sufganiot (jelly donuts) – foods cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle
Dreidel – a top containing the hebrew letters nun, gimel, hay, and shin (or in Israel pey) representing the Hebrew words neis gadol hayah sham (or in Israel po) – A Great Miracle Happened There (or Here).
Happy Chanukah (or if you celebrate it, Merry Christmas)