Tag Archives: Chanukah

Dreaming of a Green Christmas : 3 Ways to Make Your Holiday Environmentally Friendly

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 9.10.28 AMBy: Elizabeth Eckhart

The holidays are a time of family celebrations, reconnecting with old friends, and celebrating all that we’re thankful for. Unfortunately, the holidays can also be a time of stress, busy schedules, and worse of all, excess. No matter how frugal you may be, chances are you’re finding that extra cold weather and party hosting costs are eating into your budget. And perhaps, if you’re like many other Intent Blog readers, the idea of so much waste, with food and energy, may bother you quite a bit. In order to both keep our habits clean and green, and save some costs, we’ve put together a list of energy saving holiday tricks to get you through the season.

Decorating Tips

If you haven’t already, consider replacing all your holiday lights with energy efficient LEDs, which actually perform better in cold weather. For larger lights, switch to 5-watt bulbs, and place all your lights on a timer or just unplug, ensuring that they won’t be left on during the day when no one can enjoy them. When shopping for outdoor decorations for yourself or others, keep in mind the wide availability of solar powered options.

If you’re really feeling green, you can also decorate with candles. Many families already use luminaries along outdoor walkways on special nights. Consider holiday scented candles, which are a beautiful addition to any home. You can also turn off the lights inside when your brightly decorated tree is on and lit. This will not only save energy; it will immediately make your home feel full of holiday spirit.

Hosting Tips

It may go against holiday tradition, but you can cook some party dishes in the microwave. The typical microwave uses 75 percent less energy than a conventional oven, so even one dish can make a large difference. Using the same reasoning, look up recipes you can create using a slow cooker. Since you’ll still be using the oven for trickier dishes, check progress through the window instead of cracking open the door (which can make the temperature drop 25 degrees in less than a minute!), and feel free to turn the oven off before the food is fully cooked. As long as the door stays shut, your food will finish perfectly and on time. Using glass or ceramic pans also means your dish will cook more quickly, so turn the oven down 20 degrees to save costs.

To keep your fridge running efficiently no matter the number of guests, keep it as stocked as possible — an easy task if feeding a large group of people! You can also defrost items in the fridge instead of a watery sink. Both tips will result in the fridge keeping cooler with less energy.

If you do happen to find your fridge is full, hold off from hauling out the spare fridge, and instead keep extra beverages and holiday leftovers cold by storing them in the garage or in the backyard. And as much as you’d like to clean up quickly following a large holiday meal, your fridge will thank you if you wait until all the food has cooled to room temperature before storing it away.

On the day of your party, turn down the thermostat to 66 degrees. Most people will find this is a comfortable range in a holiday sweater, and the increased body heat should take care of the rest. Keep a few blankets handy for older guests and chronically cold friends. If you plan on setting the mood by using the fireplace, install a tight-fitting set of glass doors and crack open a window nearby. Open-hearth fireplaces actually draw in the heated air from your home and send it straight up the chimney — a problem glass doors can stop. With increased holiday lights on top of heat usage, your bills may still come out higher than expected. If you haven’t already, start monitoring your light usage and reevaluate your energy plan using sites like Energize Connecticut and TexasElectricityProviders.com. Not only can you switch to less expensive plans, you can also choose to have most or all of your energy generated from green sources such as wind or solar.

Gift Giving and Shopping

Although many of us enjoy wandering around decorated stores during the holidays, perhaps even stopping to see Santa, before the perfect gift emerges on its own, you can save time and costs by planning out the gifts necessary for each person. Make use of outlets and strip malls, which mean you have less driving to do from store to store. You can also shop for products made locally or buy materials to craft gifts on your own, which not only supports local businesses but detracts overall from the amount of overseas transit costs and pollution that trucks, boats, and planes cause. The same goes for shopping online  — if you buy your gifts from one store instead of three, you’ll have lower costs associated with packaging and transit.

Regarding the actual gift, aim to buy fewer gifts that use electricity and batteries. An amazing 40 percent of all batteries are purchased during the holiday season, which means a lot of energy is used. If you must buy electronic gifts, definitely opt for the energy efficient versions, and maybe even throw in rechargeable batteries instead of singular usage batteries.

The holidays are the perfect time to show appreciation for those around you. Whether it be through gifts, parties, or decorations, the holidays can be exciting, albeit expensive. But, if you plan accordingly and shop wisely, you’ll find the damage to your wallet and the earth can be greatly reduced.

Elizabeth Eckhart is a Chicago born and bred blogger who is passionate about keeping the environment clean. Some of her favorite writing topics include new renewable energy technology and various ways to live a healthy lifestyle. 

The Miracle of Chanukah


Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. But whereas Christmas focuses on the birth of a single individual whose life and mission was itself supposed to bring liberation, Chanukah is about a national liberation struggle involving an entire people who seek to remake the world through struggle with an oppressive political and social order: the Greek conquerors (who ruled Judea from the time of Alexander in 325 B.C.E.) and the Hellenistic culture that they sought to impose.

Though the holiday celebrated by lighting candles for 8 nights recalls the victory of the guerrilla struggle led by the Maccabees against the Syrian branch of the Greek empire, and the subsequent rededication (Chaunkah in Hebrew) of the Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C.E., there was a more difficult struggle which took place (and in some dimensions still rages) within the Jewish people between those who hoped for a triumph of a spiritual vision of the world embedded (as it turned out, quite imperfectly) in the Maccabbees and a cynical realism that had become the common sense of the merchants and priests who dominated the more cosmopolitan arena of Jerusalem.

The cynical realists in Judea, among them many of the priests charged with preserving the Temple, argued that Greek power was overwhelming and that it made far greater sense to adjust to it than to resist. The Greek globalizers promised advances in science and technology that could benefit international trade and enrich the local merchants who sided with them, even though the taxes that accompanied their rule impoverished the Jewish peasants who worked the land and eked out a subsistence living. Along with Greek science and military prowess came a whole culture that celebrated beauty both in art and in the human body, presented the world with the triumph of rational thought in the works of Plato and Aristotle, and rejoiced in the complexities of life presented in the theatre of Aeschylus, Euripides, and Aristophanes.

To the Maccabbees, the guerrilla band that they assembled to fight the Greek Empire and its Seleucid dynasty in Syria, and to many of the Jewish supporters of that struggle, the issue of Greek militarism, social injustice and oppression were far more salient than the accomplishments of Greek high culture. Whatever might be the value of Athenian democracy, the reality that it exported to the world through Alexander and his successors was oppressive and exploitative.

The “old-time religion” that the Maccabees fought to preserve had revolutionary elements in it that went far beyond the Greeks in articulating a liberatory vision: not only in the somewhat abstract demand to “love your neighbor as yourself,” “love the stranger,” and pursue justice and peace, but also concretely in Torah prescriptions to abolish all debts every seven years, allow the land to lie fallow every seven years, refrain from all work and activities connected to control over the earth once a week on Sabbath, redistribute the land every fifty years (the Jubilee) back to its original equal distribution.

The identification with the oppressed, enshrined in Judaism in its insistence that Jews were derived from slaves who had been liberated, and in its focus on retelling the story of being oppressed that was central to the Torah, seemed atavistic and naïve to the more educated and enlightened Jewish urban dwellers, who pointed to the reactionary tribalistic elements of Torah and sided with the Greeks when they declared circumcision and study of Torah illegal and banned the observance of the Sabbath.

The miracle of Chanukah is that so many people were able to resist the overwhelming “reality” imposed by the imperialists and to stay loyal to a vision of a world based on generosity, love of stranger, and loyalty to an invisible God who promised that life could be based on justice and peace. It was these “little guys,” the powerless, who managed to sustain a vision of hope that inspired them to fight against overwhelming odds, against the power of technology and science organized in the service of domination, and despite the fact that they were dismissed as terrorists and fundamentalist crazies. When this kind of energy, what religious people call “the Spirit of God,” becomes ingredient in the consciousness of ordinary people, miracles ensue.

Untraditional Holiday Traditions

Because our relationships serve as a barometer of personal happiness, they are always evolving, expanding or ending. What used to be known as the traditional family is now holding hands with a new cast of characters who are referred to by steps and ex-s, step-grandparents, step-children, ex-wives and husbands, and so on. Because of all the different personalities and cultures, the old family holiday traditions simply won’t be inclusive. One size does not fit all!

This gives us a wonderful excuse to let go of the old and tired to invent our own new and blended version. For example, some of the traditional recipes might be unhealthy by today’s standards, difficult to prepare and don’t even taste good! It’s time to free ourselves from a past that no longer applies to embrace the present. Let’s start by creating our own new rituals, step by step. It is truly amazing how these small actions will work on our mindsets to free us up from other restrictions in our lives. We enjoy expressing ourselves naturally. Accepting, integrating and participating in joint rituals creates balance and strengthens the family.

I’m not a domestic diva, but here are some suggestions for starting your own special holiday traditions:

  • Borrow elements from seasonal festivities from different cultures and decorate your home with them. Bring nature into your home. Get CD’s with specific sounds from nature.
  • Food affects family mood. Come up with your own special holiday recipes that tie into the season. Create a family stew or soup of blended seasonal foods with bread that you bake together. There are so many varieties of breads you might have to take a vote.
  • If new family members come from a warm climate and now live in a cold one, spread out a blanket and have an indoor family picnic using as many props as you can instead of a sit-down dinner.
  • To keep it spiritual set up a family “pilgrimage” by becoming a tourist in your own neighborhood. For example, take a gratitude walk by the sea, in a park, or to cityscapes. Consider a family walk on a clear night to look at the stars or a harvest moon.
  • Use lights: Candles with different scents for each celebration.
  • Create a forgiveness ritual followed by a sweet table.
  • Create a yearly planting ceremony from a perennial in your backyard to seeds on your windowsill.
  • Keep an album of new family milestones and set aside a special day to recite the stories.
  • If you don’t want a Christmas tree or Menorah, decorate a lamp – hanging circles made from construction paper of your wishes and appreciation.

Chanukah vs. Christmas

This is the third in a series of three posts by Rabbi Lerner on the significance of Chanukah and Christmas. Please read the first one, The Miracle of Chanukah, and the second, Chanukah and Christmas: The Expression of Radical Hope.

As I wrote in my earlier post, Jews and Christians have much in common in celebrating at this time of year.

And yet, there are reasons to not mush together these separate holidays. The tremendous pressure of the capitalist marketplace has been to take these holidays, eliminate their actual revolutionary messages, and instead turn them into a secular focus whose only command is "Be Happy and Buy."

The huge pressure to be happy and the media’s ability to portray others as beaming with joy makes a huge number of people despondent because they actually don’t feel that kind of joy, and imagine that they are the only ones who don’t, and hence feel terrible about themselves, something they seek to repair by buying, drugging or drinking themselves into happiness.

And when that too doesn’t work for very long, they become all the more unhappy with themselves or with others. The pressure to buy as a way of showing that you really care about others puts many people into the position of spending more than they have, putting themselves into further debt, and then feeling depressed about that.

Still others have no way to buy "enough" on credit, and then their children, saturated by a media specially attuned to the best ways to market to toddlers and everyone older through their teen years, make their parents or others feel inadequate because they have not bought what the media portrays as the standard for what a "normal family" buys for the holidays.

Jews, seeking to fit into American society, grabbed onto this path of the holidays "not really being religious but only a time to celebrate," and thus many embraced Christmas in the one way they could—buying presents for their non-Jewish friends and neighbors and celebrating Christmas as a "non-sectarian, American holiday."

But this well-intentioned move to fit into American society only helped the capitalist secularists, and unintentionally further undermined the ability of Christians to hold onto the religious and spiritual intent of their holiday. This is why spiritual progressives of the Christian faith have urged Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives to NOT celebrate the holiday as one undifferentiated "holiday season" but to celebrate the holidays as religious and spiritual holidays and to affirm the specific religious message of each one depending on which fits your particular faith.

For those who will be in the Bay Area, my synagogue Beyt Tikkun invites you to come to a Chanukah party that honors the themes of this message. It will take place at 6 p.m. Saturday night, December 27th at the Noe Valley Ministry, 1021 Sanchez Street in San Francisco. Children are especially welcome (that’s why it’s at 6 p.m.). The event includes candle lighting, telling the Chanukah story (by me), singing and dancing (music by Achi Ben Shalom) and shmoozing. We’ll supply the latkes (potato pancakes). Cost is $15 per person (free to members of Beyt Tikkun and to currently paid up members of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, but they must bring food for a pot-luck). Or, if you happen to be on the Big Island of Hawaii, on Sunday night Dec. 28th, Rabbi Lerner will be there to do a Chanukah candle lighting ceremony at a place to be announced only to those who respond and RSVP to kay@tikkun.org.

Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun Magazine, chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and rabbi of Beyt Tikkun synagogue which holds services and Torah study in both Berkeley and San Francisco, is the author of 11 books, most recently the national best seller called The Left Hand of God. He urges you to copy and circulate this message to all your friends, and to JOIN (as a dues paying member) the interfaith organization that he chairs along with co-chairs Sister Joan Chittister and Princeton Professor Cornel West—it’s called the Network of Spiritual Progressives, and you can join at www.spiritualprogressives. Along with membership, you get a free subscription to Tikkun magazine, the preeminent interfaith magazine of progressive politcs, social theory, spirituality, philosophy, cultural critique and psychology.

Chanukah and Christmas: Celebrations of Radical Hope

This is the second in a series of posts by Rabbi Lerner on the significance of Chanukah and Christmas. Please read the first one, The Miracle of Chanukah

The foundation for all who continue to struggle for a world of peace and social justice at a time when the champions of war and injustice dominate the political and economic institutions of our own society, often with the assistance of their contemporary cheerleading religious leaders, is the radical hope held by the less powerful in the face of tyranny — whether the hope is rooted in religion or secularist belief systems. It is that radical hope that is celebrated this Chanukah by those Jews who have not yet joined the contemporary Hellenists.

Radical hope is also the message of Christmas. Like Chanukah, it is rooted in the ancient tradition of a winter solstice celebration to affirm humanity’s belief that the days, now grown shortest around December 23rd, will grow long again as the sun returns to heat the earth and nourish the plants. Just as Jews light holiday lights at this time of year, so do Christians transform the dark into a holiday of lights, with beautiful Christmas trees adorned with candles or electric lights, and lights on the outside and inside of their homes.

Christianity took the hope of the ancients and transformed it into a hope for the transformation of a world of oppression. The birth of a newborn, always a signal of hope for the family in which it was born, was transformed into the birth of the messiah who would come to challenge existing systems of economic and political oppression, and bring a new era of peace on earth, social justice and love. Symbolizing that in the baby Jesus was a beautiful way to celebrate and reaffirm hope in the social darkness that has been imposed on the world by the Roman empire, and all its successors right up through the contemporary dominance of a globalized rule of corporate and media forces that have permeated every corner of the planet with their ethos of selfishness and materialism.

Seeing Jesus as the Son of God, and as an intrinsic part of God, was also a way of giving radical substance to the notion that every human being is created in the image of God. For God to come on earth, bring a holy message of love and salvation, and then to die at the hands of the imperialists and be resurrected to come back at some future date was and is a beautiful message of hope for a world not yet redeemed. The story became an inspiration to hundreds of millions who saw in it the comforting message that the rule of the powerful was not the ultimate reality of existence.

And yet, using the specificity of one human being and identifying him as God, a move made by St. Paul but not by Jesus himself, did not fit into the framework of Judaism, which could not accept Jesus as messiah either because of its view that the messiah would bring an end to wars and all forms of oppression, an end that had not yet taken place during or after Jesus’ death.

Jews and Christians have much in common in celebrating at this time of year. We certainly want to use this holiday season to once again affirm our commitment to end the war in Iraq, to end global poverty and hunger by embracing the NSP version of the Global Marshall Plan, and to save the world from ecological destruction. We live in dark times–but these holidays help us reaffirm our hope for a fundamentally different reality that we can help bring about in the coming years.

The Astrological Origins of Hanukah and Christmas

A big question relating to Hanukah and Christmas:

What do Jesus Christ; Apollo and his lovely twin, Artemis; Marduk (the Mesopotamian Jupiter); Cernnunos (the horned Gallic god); Mithras (the Babylonian sun god); Baal (the Canaanite god); Bel (the Celtic sun god); Balder (the Norse god); Attis (the Phrygian savior); and Horus (the Egyptian sun god) all have in common?

They were all born on the same day. Their birthdays land on the winter solstice, which means they are Capricorns. (Jesus Christ, as we noted in the chapter on Aries, is a Capricorn by proxy).

This shared birthday teaches us a profound spiritual truth: in the moment of bleakest darkness and despair, when all seems lost, our higher self, the spark of god and goddess within us, is born. When we hit rock bottom, our savior—our genuine divine nature—comes to the rescue.

Astrology views the longest night of the year as the great womb of the Mother Goddess, who gives birth on that day to the god of Light. Spanish uses the phrase dar luz, which means “to give light,” to describe any birth. In the wake of this astrological birth, the womb of the goddess—code for the all-encompassing darkness of the night—begins to contract. Like the night from this day forward, it shrinks smaller and smaller, while the baby called Light expands and grows. The winter solstice, according to esoteric astrology, therefore equals the gateway of the gods…

This year, regardless of whether you have a decorated Tree that shines bright light, or an eight candlestick beaming with hope, take time to consider the astrological roots of these Holidays and how you can bring forth Light in the darkest time of the year not only for yourself but to everyone around, both friends and foes.

Happy Holidays!

Visit Gahl’s website, www.CosmicNavigator.com.  

Gahl is currently touring with his book. See him in person!

The Holiday Season: Real

On December 21st, the Winter Solstice, millions of Jews and their non-Jewish friends who just like to play with fire, will light the first candle of Hanukah.

Besides the fact that people and spell-checkers all around the world argue on what is the correct spelling of Hanukah, the holiday represents the christening of light, and the birth of a new cycle of light.  

This year, Hanukah, Jewish version of the Holiday of Light, will begin December 21st, right on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the day we encounter the least amount of light. It is a very auspicious synchronicity that Hanukah, the celebration of light, begins at the sunset of the darkest day of the year.  

From December 21st for the next eight days, Jews around the globe will light one more candle each day, thus helping light vanquish darkness. It is a ritual of light, a ceremony that is designed to put us at one with the heavenly cycles. It can be viewed as sympathetic magic – by lighting the candles we bring light, love and happiness into our life.  The rabbis instruct us to place the candles in the windows so that everyone can see the light growing every night. So the question is: why do we celebrate Hanukah – the Holiday of Light at the darkest time of the year? Is the origin of Hanukah historical or psychological? 

Some people call Hanukah the Jewish Christmas. They are both right and wrong. It is true that Hanukah usually falls very close to Christmas and that they are both celebrations of Light. They are both created to help us deal with the darkest time of the year and therefore have their origins in the pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice.  If you ask an orthodox Jew or a traditional Christian they will negate any connection between the two holidays and assert that these festivities have nothing to do with astrology. They will argue that Hanukah is celebrated to commemorate the victory of the Jews over the Greek almost 2200 years ago and that Christmas is the day Christ was supposedly born. But we all know the gospel: It Ain’t Necessarily So….   

I personally think myths should be myths and should never be confused with history. Myths, unlike history, are not written by the winners but by the wise. I am not familiar with any archeological or historical studies that can prove that indeed Jesus was born on Christmas or that the Menorah in the temple was kept alight miraculously for eight days.  

But unlike historian or religious fundamentalists, I don’t care if these events are myths or historical accounts. And with me stand proudly an army of children from all over the world who will demand their gifts for Hanukah and Christmas regardless of their historical validity or lack of.  

To explain my point here is an excerpt from my book: Cosmic Navigator – Design Your Destiny with Astrology and Kabbalah: 

The winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, is the day we encounter the least amount of light.  The winter solstice has proven to be rather traumatic for many cultures in the Northern Hemisphere. As we progress toward the winter solstice, the days are stripped of their light. Everything becomes dark and gloomy. Early stargazers and shamans recognized this phenomenon and its deleterious effect on human mood and behavior. For example, in pre-Columbian Mexico, some cultures sacrificed people in a macabre effort to appease the sun god. They speculated that the sun, which slowly diminished around winter solstice, demanded the blood of human sacrifice in order to grow strong again. Contemporary psychologists have dubbed the winter blues S.A.D., which stands for seasonal affective disorder. They recognized that humans, animals, and plants react to the changing seasons, a conclusion that astrologers from all over the world have been aware of for thousands of years. The symptoms of S.A.D. include oversleeping, a need for a nap in the afternoon (as in, a siesta), a craving for carbohydrates that contribute to weight gain, grouchiness, melancholy, and antisocial behavior. Bears have found a practical solution to winter depression. They just go to sleep. Psychologists devised a different remedy. They expose the patient to light. They call it light therapy. All over the world, wise elders, storytellers, religious teachers, and astrologers lit upon another solution. I am sure that you and your family have already practiced this same preventive medicine many times before. It’s called the holiday season, or to be more specific, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Saturnalia, and Yule, just to name a few. Our astute ancestors, like modern day psychologists, could not help but notice that people’s moods sour as the days grow shorter. Versed in the practical applications of the ancient alchemical axiom of “as above, so below,” they figured that as the light slowly disappeared above, people’s energy levels declined correspondingly below. In order to enliven their communities, these ancients decided to concoct holiday festivities to crown the winter solstice with special significance. During the darkest time of the year, they created the holidays of light. You can call holidays the real “light therapy.” 

Hanukkah, also known as the Festival of Lights, was created to counter the growth of darkness both outside and in. During this holiday, Jews from all over the world spend eight days lighting candles. Hanukkah evokes a kind of sympathetic magic designed to abet the growth of light. We light eight candles (eight is the symbol of infinity), and once we reach eight candles on the eighth day, it seem as if the light has achieved a critical mass that will enable it to shine thereafter on its own. 

The Celts similarly ignited bonfires on the mountaintops during Yule for this same purpose: to beckon light into a darkening world. During Christmas, we drape the

treetops in sparkling lights. When you visit any mall or city center around Christmas, you will see light therapy in action. The shops and front yards sparkle with so much light that you barely notice the burgeoning darkness of the night.  

More recently, humankind has invented another technique to fight the winter blues. It’s called shopping therapy, but its efficacy is short lived. Shopping’s invigorating boost usually lasts until the first credit-card statement arrives in January. Shopping therapy derives loosely from Kabbalistic spiritual principles, but I have to say that in the last two centuries it has spun a little out of control.  

Kabbalah works on the principle of giving and receiving, and in the times of darkness we are encouraged to generate love and happiness by giving and receiving gifts. We bring a green tree (the Tree of Life) into our living room and surround it with presents. Jewish tradition calls on us to give chocolate golden coins (called Hanukkah gelt) to children. The chocolate, of course, contains enough sugar to make the kids high enough to forget the dreariness of winter.  

The winter solstice heralds the darkest day of the year. But it also heralds a marvel. 

Visit Gahl’s website, www.CosmicNavigator.com.  

Gahl is currently touring with his book. See him in person!

Ten Holiday Tips

Year-end Holidays can make wonderful experiences and memories for parents and kids—and all the rest of us. They can also be stressful, and whip by incredibly fast.

For the past few years, I’ve posted 10 practical tips for Dads & Daughters to keep in mind for making the most of the Holidays, and you can read them by clicking the link above.

These tips are easily “translated” for mothers, sons, or any other sentient being trying to keep the next month or so in perspective. Share your thoughts—and additional ideas—in a comment below.
Have a day filled with thanksgiving on Thanksgiving, and every other day.
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