Garland. Menorahs. Tinsel. Dreidels. It’s the start of the holiday season and New York City is dressed accordingly.
Along with the the crisp aroma of impending snow and icy air comes the smells of latkes and lamb, candy canes and honeyed ham. The Big Apple is home to over eight million inhabitants, many of which transplanted from other states and countries. Nearly 1.1 million of that figure represents the Jewish population – the largest outside of Israel. Compound that with New York’s knack for the fanciful celebration and commercialization of the Christmas season, and you’re in for a hodgepodge holiday experience.
All one has to do is take a walk down Broadway or Fifth Avenue (or really, any side street) and gaze into the nearest storefront to get a tasting of the religious holiday buffet. A diner in Murray Hill features a dimly lit hanukkiah entangled with Christmas lights, which create a trail to a rather sad looking fake pine. In every office lobby near Rockefeller Center, an electric menorah and impersonally decorated Christmas tree interrupt the otherwise corporate bareness. Borough Park neighbors strangle their hedges in a mass of multicolored lights.
It’s loud, it’s decked out. But what is it that we’re celebrating exactly?
I look at billboards, I check window displays, I talk to friends. The stressful agenda of December seems to stop after a vague list of shopping necessities, family fun, and decorating must-haves. I get it: we’re all so busy. But once the New Year hits, we’ve failed at our resolutions, and we’re prying garland from the front porch, what have we accomplished? What have we commemorated?
The origins of both Hanukkah and Christmas are planted in much historical context, recorded thousands of years ago. Both are based on a miraculous event that showcased the power of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In one, the Maccabees were delivered from darkness by God’s provision. In the other, the entire world was invited out of darkness by God’s own Son, Yeshua. For an objective outsider, the transition from this significance to our current state of commercialization must have been a depressing nosedive to watch.
Don’t get me wrong: I love ice skating (for at least five minutes before my feet cry out for mercy), carol singing, candle lighting, and dreidel spinning as much as the next person. But at what point in the seasonal scurry do we truly celebrate something worth rejoicing? In this metropolis, and countless others, people take pride in their frilly festivities – and simultaneously leave out the faith that fuels the reason for celebrating to begin with.
Next time you visit the Jewish man playing Santa Claus at the local Macy’s, pass by the enormous lit tree and menorah in front of the hospital, or get tangled in a web of colored lights, stop for a moment.
Unwrap the packaging and open the real present: Jesus is waiting for you.
So go ahead, invite Him to His own birthday party instead of celebrating it without Him.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12