Tis the season…We haven’t yet had thanksgiving dinner, but the carols have started, the decorated trees are in the center of the stores where you can’t miss them, and all forms of media are joyfully giving you great gift ideas for the 25th of next month or the eight days of Hanukkah. It’s a crazy cacophony of jingling bells, piped in music, mothers cajoling and little ones screaming for toys they can’t have yet. ‘Tis the season…
It is the season of symbols. Symbols that resonate on many levels with our world today and connect us with more ancient celebrations and worlds past. Stars in the night, angel heralds, shepherds and kings, a stable, a manger and a baby. The Christmas tree hung with lights and ornaments, tinsel or ribbons, and adorned with a star or angel atop and gifts beneath gathers together many of the images that represent the season, both secular and religious. Each symbol has its own story to tell.
The menorah is a more ancient symbol of the season. It’s origins go back to Moses, who crafted a golden seven-branched candelabra designed by G-d that lit the Tabernacle where the arc was kept and that journeyed with the Israelites as they made their way to Jerusalem, where the menorah finally rested in the Temple. Today’s menorah has nine branches and is lit during the eight days of Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. The tree and the menorah have more in common than separates them.
Each represents the season of Light. Whether lights strung around a tree or candelabra lit with candles, both celebrations come during the darkening days of December, to light up our world. Both incarnate a reality marked by the coming of something new into a people’s midst. One serving in the Temple of the Lord, custodian of the covenant; the other a sign of another Light that came into the world in the form of a person. The Christ-self whose advent is heralded by St. Paul.
The dreidel, a wooden four-sided top, use in a children’s game, is also a symbol of the season. I love the legend of the dreidel because in my mind this simple children’s object, connects both the Christian and Jewish holidays. According to Jewish tradition, when the Jews were in caves learning Torah, hiding from the Greeks, dreidel became a popular game to play. Legend has it that whenever the teacher heard the Greek soldiers approaching, he would instruct the children to hide their Torah scrolls and take out their dreidels instead. (Wikipedia)
Inscribed on each of its four sides is a letter-symbol whose acronym means ‘a great miracle happened here.’ Indeed. The light that shines out from each religious celebration, each with its ancient origins, proclaims this is the season of a great miracle. The miracle of Light. The miracle of new Life. The dreidel first found its way into the life of Judaism in a cave full of devout children and their teachers. It was in a cave-like stable that the Christ-child was born and would teach what it means to be Torah, in St. Paul’s words, what it means to be children of the light. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)