The search for meaning is a constant struggle. Around this time of year, when days grow short, nights long, and the world seems to overflow with things of the spirit and holiday cheer, such philosophical concerns become even a greater problem for some.
Unable to capture just what it is they believe, many people thrash about a bit, taking a little of this and a little of that. They close their eyes and shrug their shoulders, and mostly come up with a whole bunch of nothing.
Such efforts generally are of little import. A person looks, explores, and comes up empty. Maybe next year. No wonder people suffer from holiday depression. They eventually grab hold of only the superficial elements, ignoring the transcendent beauty and wonder to be found during this, um, most wonderful time of the year.
Occasionally all this effort runs amok. In the rush to belong, to understand, and feel good about whom and what they are, people sometime forget that ritual and belief need to have something meaningful at its core.
Several years ago, when I was getting paid to write and still worked for that place with a printing press, I received a publicity kit for a new children's book, "Blintzes for Blitzen." I tossed it atop a growing pile of letters, bulletins, books and press releases, planning to study it when I got a moment.
As Hanukkah neared – btw, the eight-day Jewish festival begins this evening – I remembered the colorful cover that featured a drawing of a reindeer and a Menorah, and dug out the promotional material.
At first glance, "Blintzes For Blitzen" seemed to be just another holiday offering, a cute, brightly illustrated children's book that explored the beliefs of two dramatically different religions, capturing the seasonal cheer and worth of both.
But it became clear, very quickly, that mostly this book was filled with a discordant mishmash of this and that, devoid of meaning, message, or cosmic belief.
That the story is moronic – something about one of Santa's reindeer, Blitzen, stumbling across the house of Bernie the deli owner, who is busy making blintzes for Hanukkah – only reinforces the notion that nothing of lasting worth is being offered.
The motives of the book's publisher, MixedBlessing, seem noble enough. "The book blends the traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah into a heartwarming tale of discovery and joy," the publishers write, and is aimed at the "growing number of interfaith families."
Phooey! Raising children of faith is a difficult problem these days. Helping them understand the wonder and beauty of different traditions is a worthwhile undertaking. But trying to blend the disparate traditions of Christmas and Hanukkah is a mistake that honors no one.
Hanukkah has nothing to do with Christmas. Christmas has nothing to do with Hanukkah. Placing a Star of David atop a Christmas tree might seem like a good idea that offers a message of understanding and tolerance. But it trivializes the holidays for those who take their religion seriously, lacks any depth of meaning or transcendent worth and confounds and confuses the brightest of children.
The search for meaning and faith is a struggle that involves understanding who you are and your place in the world. Coming to such belief might begin as an exercise of intellect – a product of the mind – but ultimately finds a resting spot in the heart and soul.
Standing off in the distance and appreciating the beauty of the holiday season is okay. I got no problem with anyone enjoying Christmas Carols and Hanukkah lights, sharing festive meals and handing out gifts to family and friends. It's when some folks try to smoosh everything together, creating Hanukkah bushes and Christmas menorahs, that the season grows bizarre, silly and meaningless.
Hanukkah and Christmas aren't just words, devoid of meaning. Both holidays offer something special for those who are interested in hearing the message. But there's a price that must be paid to appreciate the holidays as anything more than one-dimensional, festive happenings. You have to figure out what you believe and make a choice.