Sometimes things come together in interesting ways, even when the connections seem purely coincidental. Such is the case of the three holidays that usually coincide, or at least come close to each other, in December. Hanukkah, which begins on December 26th in 2005, is where it is on the calendar because those are the dates that the Jews rededicated the Temple after defeating the Seleucid kings. Christmas, on the other hand, is where it is because of a pagan midwinter festival, not because of any actual event occurring on that date. And Kwanzaa is where it is simply because the other two happen roughly together in December.
Because of the nearness of these holidays perhaps we can learn a lesson about tolerance. First, though, we have to understand that tolerance does not mean agreement. Christians and Jews are often branded “intolerant” because they consider a certain “lifestyle” sinful. While some may be intolerant, as a rule they are the opposite. Most can identify sin as sin, and yet still acknowledge the value of the person who is the sinner. Likewise people can be tolerant of other religions without accepting the doctrines of that religion. If the backlash to violence in the Middle East has taught us anything, it should teach us that Muslims and “the people of the book” (Christians and Jews) can live in harmony, if not agreement.
I heard a story a couple of years ago that emphasizes the spirit of harmony that should be prevalent, especially at this time of year. In a certain city there was a neighborhood in which there lived one observant Jewish family. The rest of the neighborhood were Christians or had no religious affiliation. Being observant, the Jewish family displayed a menorah in their window during Hanukkah. One of the requirements of the menorah is that it be displayed where those passing on the street can see its light. Thus it became obvious that this was the only Jewish household in the community. On one night of the holiday vandals painted swastikas and other anti-Semitic graffiti on that one house. The next morning the neighbors saw the family, visibly shaken, removing the filth from their house. One of the neighbors, a Christian woman, felt she had to do something about what had happened. That day she went to several department and discount stores. After buying as many menorot (plural of menorah) as she could find, she went to each house on the block and asked them to help her show the Jewish family that they were part of the community. She explained to each neighbor the tradition and proper lighting of the menorah. Every night for the remainder of the holiday every house on the block proudly displayed a properly lighted (albeit sometimes electric) menorah. This show of support convinced the offended family that they were part of the community, even though their beliefs differed from those of the majority. The Christians were able to partially overcome centuries of bigotry and mistrust through one simple act of tolerance and love.
“Happy Holidays” may now be the politically correct greeting. While that may be proper, in some ways it is unfortunate. Instead we should learn to greet everybody on their holiday, with genuine respect, rather than trying to pretend that we do not have differences. Instead of teaching people that differences don’t exist, we should be teaching that differences don’t matter.
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men.” (Gal 6:10) Christians should do good, and show love, wherever we can. That doesn’t mean we can’t teach others about our beliefs. We should not belittle theirs. Too often we have been known to follow the verse that says “let your light shine before men,” (Matt 5:16) without paying any attention to the conclusion of the verse, where it says that they may “glorify your Father which is in heaven.” That could mean lighting a menorah on Hanukkah, a Christmas tree on December 25th, and the Kwanzaa candles the week thereafter, if necessary.