Sami Greenbury
Technology, Teaching & Travel

A Humanist Chanukah

I am by no means an authority on Humanism, I’ve met a few inspirational people who have been working on it for a lot longer than myself. However I’ve found it hard to find drop in alternatives to some of my families usual traditions. Rather than reinvent the wheel every year, I’m going to start writing them down – and doing so publicly so that others can comment and improve on them and perhaps find easy god-free ways to mark the passing seasons with their friends and families too.

What is Chanukah all about?

The first thing we need to do is figure out what Chanukah is about, why do we get together every year to light candles eat particular food? Some of these traditions will be specific to my personal preferences, my family, my community, my country and my ancestors traditions. Yours will probably differ – but that’s the joy of variety.

On Chanukah we:

Light the Chanukiah:

  • To count the days/mark the passing of time.
  • For an excuse to get together every day for a week (especially now that most of my siblings are living in difference places)
  • Because lights are pretty
  • To cheer us up at what can be a down-trodden time of year (it’s getting colder, it’s getting wet – but we’re not quite remembering our coat every time we leave the house).

Decorate the house – especially with lights

By the time Chanukah comes around, it’s usually dark when we leave work. It’s also dark when we get out of bed. Humans like daytime, we’re not nocturnal creatures. Brightening up our house – especially on the outside – is almost like saying “It’s dark, we might have street lights to see the path – but lets add colour to make us happy too”. We’re turning the darkness into happiness.

Give Presents

Because the giving and receiving of gifts is nice. Gift giving on Chanukah has actually become less central to my family as we’ve got older.

Gambling

The playing of Deeidel traditionally stems from when the Jews were prohibited from teaching Torah under the Greeks they would hide out in the forest to study Torah – if the Greek patrols came around they’d hide the learning materials and pull out spinning tops – pretending they were just playing with them.

Later on the Dreidel was incorporated into the Chanukah traditions and the letter was added to relate it to the Miracle of the Oil. This is inherently problematic for a humanist Chanukah which is trying to avoid the supernatural.

The tradition of gambling on Chanukah seems to stem from the Dreidel – rather than anything else. Gambling always starts with hope – even though you know that hope is usually not going to come about. This could tie in nicely with an idea that the story of Chanukah is about fighting for what you believe in – and of being hopeful but realistic.

Humanist Chanukah Ceremony

With all that in mind, perhaps we’re ready to put some words down.

Welcome to Chanukah

Chanukah is the Jewish festival of light. As the nights get longer and the days get colder it can be easy to contrast this season with the warm and bright summer which suddenly seems so long ago.

Spring might be only a few months away, but those months will be filled with not-enough-jumpers, forgotten rain coats and slippery pavements.

Festival of Light

As an antidote to this downtrodden time of year we try to bring more light into the world. We decorate our homes – inside and out. We make an extra effort to see our friends and families – to bring light into our hearts, but also to connect with them in advance of the tough season ahead – a season when many people struggle with ill health, cold houses, tough transport and isolation. It’s a chance to remind us of who we have, and to remind others that they can call on us if they need any assistance.

A Story of Hope

The story of Chanukah tells of a small band of people fighting for what they believe in against a great and mighty foe.

The tale goes that King Antiochus destroyed the second temple and outlawed Judaism. The Jews fought for a couple of years to take back their temple – eventually winning! They rededicated the temple – the Hebrew word Chanukah means Dedication – and their culture survived.

The world today is full of so many rights, but also so many wrongs and we often feel helpless. Sometimes the biggest contributions we can make might still seem tiny in the grand scheme of things.

Even if I wasted nothing; travelled and ate responsibly; and considered the impact of my choices – would the world notice the impact?

No – it probably wouldn’t but if we were one of a thousand other people doing the same then the collective impact will all add up.

The Story of Chanukah is one of hope in the face of big issues, so whether you’re fighting to end animal cruelty, reduce environmental damage, to care for the needy or for a more just world – whatever your good fight is don’t give up on it.

Lighting the Lights

We’re now going to light the Chanukiah. We’ll be lighting all 8 branches because today is the 8th day of Chanukah. Once they’re lit, I’d like to invite you to spend some time enjoying their light and their warmth and to remember this moment when the whole world seems to be dark and cold.

Light the candles

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