Christmas Isn't Christmas Without...Hannukah
Just go with me on this, and accept my apologies in advance for any offense I cause.
Cast your mind back, Dear Reader, to any public space you may have been to in the last 20 or so days. Any institutions of higher education, public libraries, Main St. corners. If there's a Christmas tree lit in those spaces, there is probably something else, included as a sort of afterthought:
Right now they're probably not lit, as the first night begins tomorrow.
I'm not Jewish, as you may have guessed, and I know very little about Hannukah. Please correct me as I mess up the story: It celebrates a miracle of light, keeping a lamp lit for 8 days even though there was only enough oil for 1. This occurred during an ancient time when Hellenistic occupiers of Israel had made it pretty much illegal to be Jewish. Observing dietary law was punishable by death. Of course, people will only put up with being told they can't be who they are for so long, and thus a revolution occurred by the Maccabees. They defeated the army sent to crush them and reclaimed their Temple which had been converted into a shrine to pagan deities.
"Since the golden menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochana. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle for G-d, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. That miracle proved the G-d has taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days for annual thanksgiving, and for lighting candles."
As far as miracles go, I suppose this one is slightly less impressive than an angel of death. But it has in common the things I find important about this time of the year: light, and love. That a shabby lamp is still quite acceptable as it is lit with the same intentions and purity of heart as the most expensive menorah.
Light is the focus of most celebrations in the dark days of December the Northern Hemisphere over. Romans went wild with their Saturnalia's celebrating the birthday of the unconquerable sun. They exchanged presents and feasted. Tribes of Germania and Scandinavia celebrated Yule (as in, the yule log we burn at this time of year) with drinking, games, feasts, and singing. They may have been celebrating the sun, but we're not 100% sure. The fact that these events, and Christmas, all have similar dates is not coincidental. Christians showed remarkable foresight and adaptive skills by telling those they wanted to convert that Christmas is pretty much the same thing as what they were already celebrating: "You use a pine tree for your celebrations? What a coincidence! There was also a tree in the Garden of Eden! We should have a joint party! Yes, I'm sure God will be fine with you practicing your pagan ways in his name!"
Christ, Saturn, G-d, Thor, it makes little difference. This is the time we set aside for one another, and to revel in our good fortune. If there were no menorahs standing slightly apart from the Christmas tree something would be missing.