December is full of cheer, and for good reason! Beautiful decorations, holiday parties at work, time off with friends and family – the end of the year brings with it a joyfulness that many look forward to year-round.
The countdown to Christmas and Hanukkah begins right after Thanksgiving ends. For both holidays, the countdown is literal and a part of celebrating the holiday. Christians use an advent calendar to track the days until Dec. 25. Jews eagerly await Hanukkah, one of the most beloved holidays of the year. Once it begins, they track each night of Hanukkah with a corresponding number of candles, adding one each night until the menorah candelabra is full of beautiful light.
Sometimes, the countdown is fueled by pure excitement for the holiday season. There are presents to buy, new recipes to try, guests to invite and holiday music to play on repeat. Whether or not someone celebrates Christmas, the joy associated with this time of year has become an integral part of the American experience, with people of all faiths enjoying the spirit of giving. Psychologists even suggest that people feel happier during December because of the jovial nature of the winter holiday season.
Whether literal or figurative, counting down to Christmas and Hanukkah is motivated by a desire to arrive at the “main event,” that people are so excited for these holidays that they simply cannot wait for them to begin. For Christians, that’s anticipation of the birth of Jesus. For Jews, that’s the miracle of the Temple menorah’s oil lasting eight days instead of one. For many Americans unaffiliated with either religion, the countdown is simply because the season is so happy, filled with pretty decorations, holiday bonuses and office parties.
At Islands of Peace, we take the same approach to the initiatives and cooperative projects we support. Everything we work on is a countdown to one unifying goal: a true and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. From economic initiatives with A New Model to the continued promotion of shared interests between Jews, Muslims, and Christians each step we take builds our excitement for a world in which those of all Abrahamic faiths can truly live and work in harmony.
Just like the literal countdown to the holidays, our love for Hanukkah has some literal roots as well. One our major initiatives, the Menorah Islands Project, calls for artificial islands in the shape of the seven-branched menorah candelabra upon which the story rests. Since today’s menorah. called a chanukiah, utilizes nine branches instead of seven, the islands will change over Hanukkah to reflect the modern-day version of the ritual object. For eight special days per year, two additional submersed islands would rise from the Mediterranean and flank the Menorah Islands on each side, creating a nine-branched menorah in honor of the holiday. Talk about excitement – such a technological feat is the ultimate holiday decoration!
We chose a menorah as the design for the islands because of the symbol’s prevalence throughout several religions and cultures. Its usage is mentioned in the Bible, and many Middle Eastern tribes have used a similar ritual object in their ceremonies. It’s just one of the many things the Abrahamic faiths have in common, proof that we have way more in common with each other than the politics which divide us.
From all of us at the Islands of Peace, have a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah and a joyous holiday season!