I love the holiday season and last weekend was finally cold enough to make it feel real. Walking around Dupont and seeing the blinking lights on Christmas trees shining through so many windows you just couldn’t help but get into a holiday mood.
The Jewish holiday of Chanukah, which always falls within a few weeks of Christmas, honors the struggle of ancient Jews to restore the Temple of Jerusalem. They wanted to clean the Temple and found enough oil to light a lamp for only one day. They lit the oil and the miracle was it lasted for eight days. Today, we celebrate this miracle by lighting candles in a menorah each night in a simple ceremony for eight nights. Lucky children get a gift each night to celebrate and it is a beautiful holiday.
This year, I was lucky to be invited to a Chanukah party at the White House and what I predicted would happen came true. Everyone appreciated the lighting of the candles on the menorah and the sentiments expressed by President Obama and Israeli President Rivlin. But all the pictures posted on Facebook during and after the party, including mine, were taken in front of the beautiful Christmas decorations throughout the house, which made it appear magical.
The decorations on the tables laden with food were gumdrop and candy cane trees beautifully decorated by the host of volunteers who help each year. After the party each person was given a small booklet, “A Timeless Tradition, Holidays at the White House 2015,” with a description of the designs and Christmas decorations in each room.
Each year, the First Baptist Church on 16th Street has a beautiful Christmas concert and a friend in the choir graciously extended an invitation to me and some friends. It was a wonderful hour of music in a beautiful setting. My companions were a Methodist and another Jewish friend and his wife and we all felt welcome. Turns out the national PBS show “Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly” shot some B-roll for a story on Christmas music and candlelight carols this year; it was the two Jewish guys who got featured in one shot; couldn’t be prouder to be part of that setting.
Like so many holidays in all religions there are traditions at Christmas that revolve around family and food. I am lucky to be able to join good friends and their kids each year for Christmas dinner. There’s nothing like watching children open gifts and seeing their wide-eyed delight at getting a gift they asked for or one they didn’t expect.
Each of us who has the opportunity to be part of such a family and friends celebration must remember how lucky we. Not everyone has that in their lives. The holiday season should be a time to think about those less fortunate. We need to make it one of our traditions to give a toy to Toys for Tots, or help at a church or shelter where meals are prepared for the homeless or others in need.
Time to think about year-end donations. Think about a non-profit whose work is important and make a donation. There are so many worthwhile organizations doing great things in the LGBT community like SMYAL, Whitman-Walker Health, MetroTeen AIDS, Casa Ruby and US Helping US, to name just a few. Then others like the Southern Poverty Law Center or Habitat for Humanity make a real difference in people’s lives. Each of us will have a favorite charity and it doesn’t matter which one you choose but that you choose and give. There is no better feeling than giving and knowing you are helping to make someone else’s life better.
Peter Rosenstein is a longtime Democratic Party and LGBT rights activist.