A Tale of a Wreath - Rabbi David A. Spey

It seems unusual to write an article for December and not discuss Chanukah, but because of our calendar, such is the case.  I remember a similar situation years ago, when Chanukah as well fell early.  My family was still living in Riverdale, NY, the section of the Bronx, just north of Manhattan that runs north along the Hudson River.  Frequently, my family would visit a beautiful garden called Wave Hill, once the home of notables such as Theodore Roosevelt and Mark Twain.  The setting is stunning, overlooking the Palisades on the Jersey side of the River between the George Washington and Tappan Zee bridges.  Wave Hill frequently offered programs for families, and we would combine a picnic lunch with some horticultural arts and crafts project. 

            One particularly warm December, one of my rabbinic colleague’s family joined us in a program helping the garden staff remove an invasive specie of creeping vine that was strangling the trees in the woods.  We were then taught how to weave these vines into decorative wreaths.  Imagine two rabbis, two rebbetzins, and several nice Jewish children weaving wreathes in anticipation of Christmas.  Naturally, we had a conversation about the appearance of what we were doing.  Our conclusion was that not only was there nothing wrong with what we were doing, but our actions were embracing the best of what an attitude of acceptance would encourage us to do.  We were not displaying the wreathes; in fact we were not even going to keep them.  We had decided to give them to our non-Jewish friends to help them celebrate Christmas, their winter holiday.

            There is a big difference between celebrating a holiday as our own and helping others celebrate their holidays.  While this can be difficult to understand in the context of holidays, it is easier to understand in the context of birthdays.  The celebration of our own birthdays is different from the celebrating someone else’s birthday.  While many of the rituals seem the same, gathering with friends and family to eat cake and open presents, the emotional attachment to the event is very different.  It is in that spirit that I take this opportunity to wish our non-Jewish friends and family a merry and fulfilling Christmas. 

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

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