It is tempting to think that Chanukah means something different for kids than it does for grownups. After all, we are older, wiser, more learned, and can read. My daughter is convinced that chocolate coins are a Chanukah ritual on par with lighting the candles.
Yes, as grown ups, we know that there are two stories—a story of miraculous military victory and a story of miraculously burning oil. We know that there are complicated notions of assimilation, oppression, and what it means to have religious freedom. We know that we are supposed to publicize the miracle, making this about lights (not about presents).
So, as we prepare for this Chanukah service, I would offer that even if our understanding of Chanukah is a little more evolved than the younger generation’s, both of us have something to learn from one another:
As we welcome this Shabbat of Chanukah, may we remember that as we have much to teach to our children, we also have much to learn from them.
When we light the candles, knowing that the story of the oil lasting for 8 nights came much later than the story of the military victory…may we remember that it doesn’t always matter which came first, which one is right, or whether it is true…sometimes the story is a good story, and that’s enough.
When we bless miracles that happened then and now, may we remember with a child’s sense of wonder that miracles are present in our world if we look and define in the right way.
When we celebrate Chanukah amidst a predominantly Christmas-focused society, let’s not deceive ourselves into thinking that we outgrow the challenge of being a minority.
When we eat the latkes, the sufganiyot, the chocolate coins…let’s not talk about our diets just for a minute and instead pretend we have a child’s metabolism. And then take a walk.
When we give and receive gifts, let’s remember that while Chanukah is not really about presents, they’re fun and that’s okay at any age.
When we look at the Chanukah candles, glowing with increasing light each night, we pray that we increase in holiness, from childhood to adulthood, from year to year, from day to day. And let us remember that we can bring light to the world at any age and in so many ways. Let us never dismiss the smallest lights among us.
Let us remember that Chanukah is a time for pride, for freedom, for believing in miracles in those days and in ours. It isn’t that complicated, it isn’t that hard, and we have 8 days to try to get it right each year.