Or, for that matter, how do we respond to "Happy Holidays"?
December can be a challenging time for Jewish families. We live in a society that seems to want everyone to celebrate the same holidays with the same symbols and festivities. Ironically, it is usually not churches, priests or ministers who send this message. It mostly comes to us from schools, work places, civic programs, advertising and commerce.
The problem does not only exist for families in which Judaism is the only religion. Many of our interfaith families have an even tougher time keeping the symbols and holidays straight. They have to figure out how to maintain a strong sense of Jewish identity for their children while respecting and honoring the traditions of other family members.
I do not have any simple solutions to the “December dilemma.” I believe that each family must discuss some fundamental questions. What is the line that divides civic and social celebrations from the violation of our Jewish integrity? How can we resist the temptation to turn our lovely minor festival of Chanukah into a “Jewish Christmas”? What are our responsibilities to our children when mixed messages make them feel badly for being different?
To turn the problem into a opportunity, though, let me make one suggestion. December is a wonderful time to teach our children (and why not remind ourselves at the same time?) that Judaism is beautiful in its differences. Our tradition celebrates the dark and cold time of the year, not in lavish displays or over-the-top spending sprees, but with the simple recognition of a miracle. The best evidence of that miracle, I believe, is that the Jewish message of peace and hope for the future has survived while kingdoms, empires, and more have risen and fallen around us. Even while the days come to their shortest and darkest of the year, we light one more little candle than the night before to say, “A great miracle happened there.”