When I was a little girl, we often had a Christmas tree. I don’t know if any of my Jewish friends had one, but we did. it For years my mother jokingly referred to it as a Hanukkah bush,” especially around my relatives; but I knew it was a Christmas tree.
My mother bought a little Santa and some reindeer to hang on the “Hanukkah bush.” She made a six-pointed star out of a tin can and pushed it onto the treetop. We had a little chime with six bright golden horses on a wheel. When the candles underneath were lit, the wheel went ’round and ’round. We put blinking lights around the “bush” and decorated it with popcorn strung on strings. We roasted chestnuts and made eggnog and sang a Hanukkah hymn. We went to a Hanukkah party at my aunt’s house, and on the way home we sang Christmas carols.
I liked Christmastime. As soon as we were in the house, I’d always race to plug in the tree and watch the room in its blinking lights. I’d snuggle in our big chair and squint my eyes to make the tree look dreamy and magical. Some of my friends were jealous that we had a tree at our house. When I suggested that they could get one too, they’d just shrug.
As I grew up, I realized that Christmas and Hanukkah were not the same holiday. Even though Christmas always came on December 25, the Hanukkah date moved around. I also learned that Hanukkah was the celebration of a miracle that God had done for my people. He had made one day’s supply of oil last for eight days. Christmas celebrated something else—the birth of a little baby. I was sure that God had something to do with Christmas, too, but I couldn’t make the connection.
After New Year’s, our little tree would get taken down. Tinsel and broken ornaments would go into the garbage can, and the lights would be carefully wrapped and put away in a box. Our lovely little “bush” would get left outside n the cold and be taken away. I missed the dancing lights and the bright metal star and wished for Christmastime again.
Now I am no longer a child. Some of the “holiday magic” has lost its glitter. But in its place a new light has come. One hot summer my mother and I both discovered the real light of Christmas. We also learned that the lights of Hanukkah and the baby of Christmas weren’t so different after all. Yes, the eight days of lights were God’s miracle; but so was the baby born in Bethlehem. He was God’s miracle of light and love made visible in human flesh. Hanukkah bushes and Christmas presents became merely symbols of God’s real light and love. Now when I see lights dancing on the tree surrounded by gifts, it’s more than magical; it’s miraculous! God sent his light into the world not just for eight days, but forever.
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness overcame it not (John 1:4,5).