A Greek Jew revisits Christmas and Hanukkah

Hanukkah for me – as I am about to enter my 50s – is about kindling, augmenting and sustaining the inner light.

A giant menorah stands in front of a Christmas tree at the Brandenburg gate to celebrate Hanukkah in Berlin December 16, 2014 (photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
A giant menorah stands in front of a Christmas tree at the Brandenburg gate to celebrate Hanukkah in Berlin December 16, 2014
(photo credit: REUTERS/FABRIZIO BENSCH)
Every year as Christmas approaches, I am reminded of my childhood holidays in Athens, Greece. In particular, something that my late grandfather Jacques used to say to my grandmother comes to mind: “It is Christmas for Christians, it is Christmas for me.”
My grandmother Yvette’s birthday on the 25th of December happens to be the day the whole of Greece was lit up and decorated for Christmas. On my grandmother’s birthday the family would gather at my parents’ house in Athens by the fireplace.
Growing up as a Jew in Athens meant that the Jewish holidays had no connection to the outer culture. Celebrating my grandmother’s birthday on Christmas Day felt for a change as if the whole world was celebrating with us. A real treat to our minority Jewish family in Athens.
This year on Hanukkah, I was invited to a Hanukkah yoga workshop in Jerusalem. The invitation read: “We will prepare our bodies through breath, meditation, visualization and mindful movement to become vessels of light.” I rejoiced for the opportunity to light up my body and spirit from the inside-out, in sync with the rest of the city.
Hanukkah for me – as I am about to enter my 50s – is about kindling, augmenting and sustaining the inner light. As in the yoga practice I was invited to, I think about what I can do in my life to kindle, add to and sustain my inner light. 
Recently my husband and I started a new practice: morning meditation, just after we wake up in the morning. I find that this modest 10-minute practice each day of bringing in the light is creating miracles. I notice that the more I make it a priority to nurture my inner light, the more I have to give to others.
The Hanukkah story tells us that the Maccabees found only a jar of oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yohanan to light up the menorah in the Temple. In modern times, when there is no temple, we can direct the light to our inner temple, our own body. Find the “oil” to light the body up every, day as the Maccabees went ahead and lit the menorah with the oil at hand. Practice kindling the light body as they kept the menorah lit in the Temple. Exercise adding to the light every day. I find that what helps is focusing on just one day at a time.
Let us have faith, too, that our light-work, even when modest, is indeed supported and augmented by a nurturing, synergistic, spiritual force hidden behind it all. Let our bodies project our inner light and reflect the Christmas trees and Hanukkiot lights shining bright in our midst.
The writer is a Greek-born Jewish woman who lives in Jerusalem. She blogs at fromjerusalemwithlove.com


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