For me, a good Christmas tree is a collection of memories.
It's a colorful, sparkly reminder of all the things that make the holiday season beautiful, and all that we have to be thankful for. We have a couple of small "themed" trees in our home (one is a "Peace Between Galaxies" Stars Wars/Star Trek), but the big tree we go out and purchase each year is a wonderfully, out-of-control mashup of family adventures from the secular to sacred, each with a story and memory attached.
There are the ornaments we pick up on trips and outings, including clear balls filled with beach sand, shells, rocks or other memories. There are the elegant blown glass pieces from past generations. There are pop culture and patriotic pieces, hand-made ornaments our kids made at school, angels and créches, regional Southwest decorations, Batman, the TARDIS, jingle bells, dragons...and one paper dreidel.
Since Hanukkah is in full swing, I thought I'd share the little story behind it.
When my oldest daughter was around four, we visited a neighboring church's "Night in Bethlehem" fundraiser, where we got to walk though a little interactive scenario of what it was like in that city near Jerusalem on the night of Jesus' birth. At one point, we passed through a bustling marketplace area, where one of the reenactors handed my daughter a little wooden dreidel. He talked about how the game was played, and why it part of Hanukkah celebrations. She held tightly to that little reward the rest of the evening.
On the way home, my daughter asked me if Jesus celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas. We told her since Jesus was Jewish, he did celebrate Hanukkah (it even mentions his being at a Hanukkah celebration in John 10:22). She asked us if he was a Christian?
"No," I said. "Jesus is the reason we are Christians. We celebrate him at Christmas."
She asked a couple more questions, then we could tell she was getting bored with the theology lesson. She just wanted to know if he played with a dreidel. Well, probably not an Oriental Trading Company special like the one she had, but I'm sure he played with one.
When we got home, she placed the dreidel in a basket on our coffee table, among some assorted marbles, coins and other treasures she collected. A few days later she was looking for it, and couldn't find it. This made her terribly upset, since it was her gift, so I printed her out a paper one from a toy-making site. This was a fine substitute until we found her wooden one under the sofa. When I returned her toy to her, I told her she could throw away the paper one, but instead, she set it on a branch of our Christmas tree. She said it belonged there, because Jesus was Jewish and would like it. I strung a little gold cord through it, so we could hang it like an ornament.
My daughter is now a teenager, but that dreidel, now slightly squashed, is still part of our annual decorations. It still reminds us that our savior is a Jewish man.
Even if you're not Jewish, you may know the four symbols on the dreidel come together to form the phrase, "A great miracle happened there.”
Yes, it did. To everyone remembering and celebrating that miracle, we Christians may come from different cultures and religious beliefs, but we worship the same God. I try to never forget that, and believe it or not that paper dreidel helps.