The Jewish festival of Chanukah begins at sundown tonight.
Chanukah isn't so much a religious holiday as a historical observance. I'm not going to belabour its origin.. there are plenty of sites which can discuss it much better than I.
This summary is from torah.org:
Chanukah: This eight day holiday which begins on the 25th day of the month of Kislev
marks the miraculous victory of the Jews, led by the Maccabees, against Greek persecution and religious oppression. In addition to being victorious in war, an additional miracle occurred: When the Maccabees came to rededicate the Temple, they found only one flask of oil with which to light the Menorah (candelabra). This small flask lasted for eight days, and in order to commemorate this miracle, the Menorah is lit for eight days of Chanukah.
Chanukah is also the time for gift giving, but the focus is on children. Adults don't exchange gifts among themselves, at least in my experience. The traditional gift is Chanukah "gelt" (money) which is either a few coins, or chocolate wafers in the shape of coins. Children also play dreidel games, with a small six-sided top with Hebrew letters. The traditional food for the holiday is the "latke" or pancake, usually made of potatoes and the more oil the better.
I really don't remember much about Chanukah from my childhood. I'm sure we celebrated it, but it wasn't built up to rival Christmas in those days. There were no public displays of menorahs as there are in some communities today. Being a reticent Canadian Jew, I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not. Even though I'm bombarded with Christian religious symbols wherever I go at this time of year, (and I thoroughly enjoy the beauty of the lights!) I feel uncomfortable about imposing my religious symbols on others. I have a feeling there's something wrong with my reasoning but I can't quite articulate it yet.
While surfing through the abovementioned Chanukah site, I was particularly struck by this passage:
Chanukah is a holiday which is based on the superiority of quality over quantity. It is this lesson which should be taken to heart on Chanukah. We should remember that when it comes to our performance of... good deeds, numbers are not all that counts. The quality of our performance is of extreme importance, and Chanukah attests to the importance of quality. Chanukah should serve as an inspiration to all of us, so that we can all improve the quality of our deeds and the quality of our lives.
Yes! That is exactly how I try to live and view the world. The small acts of kindness and love that come from the heart are the ones that mean the most. A smile, a hug from a child, being told "I love you", are worth more to me than all Bill Gates' fortune.