A Bi-Polar Holiday, part one
It is a most contradictory time of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere temperatures are at their coldest and yet, we celebrate the holidays that are designed to bring out the warmest feelings in us all. At the very time of the year when Mother Nature is experiencing death, we celebrate birth and rebirth. For many of us the weather is a bit shifty. Some days are moderate in temperature and then within twenty-four hours, we can experience a climate change of magnitude proportions.
Bi-Polar Disorder is a mental health disorder that causes periods of depression and periods of abnormally elevated or happy moods. During such periods of mania, the individual behaves or feels abnormally or unusually energetic, happy, or conversely, irritable or depressed. These extreme mood swings create these episodes of emotional highs and lows and can create changes in sleep patterns, thought processes, eating, and other behaviors.
The very mention of Christmas or other winter holidays can bring about similar reactions in many people. Those with a bi-polar diagnosis might experience such episodes during seasonal changes and the winter time in many areas is ripe for such. For others, though, the holidays represent loss or failure. Very few people get through the month of December without some type of anxiety or depression.
Christmas is a holiday based upon the past events that Christians believe tells the story of the birth of a baby named Jesus. Hanukah is a holiday celebrating the story of one night’s worth of oil lasting for eight nights. Both of these have elements of a miracle occurring but perhaps the greatest miracle is that these stories are still with us. It can be difficult for some to find a bill they believed they paid three months ago and yet, these two stories have lasted over two thousand years.
The story of Hanukah does not appear in the Talmud, since it occurred after its writing. It is, however, referred to in the New Testament when Jesus is described as attending a feast of rededication. The events that inspired the Hanukkah holiday took place during a particularly turbulent phase of Jewish history. Around 200 B.C., Judea, known then as the Land of Israel, came under the control of Antiochus III, the Seleucid king of Syria, who allowed the Jews who lived there to continue practicing their religion. His son, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, proved less benevolent: Ancient sources recount that he outlawed the Jewish religion and ordered the Jews to worship Greek gods. In 168 B.C., his soldiers descended upon Jerusalem, massacring thousands of people and desecrating the city’s holy Second Temple by erecting an altar to Zeus and sacrificing pigs within its sacred walls.
Led by the Jewish priest Mattathias and his five sons, a large-scale rebellion broke out against Antiochus and the Seleucid monarchy. When Matthathias died in 166 B.C., his son Judah, known as Judah Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took the helm; within two years the Jews had successfully driven the Syrians out of Jerusalem, relying largely on guerilla warfare tactics. Judah called on his followers to cleanse the Second Temple, rebuild its altar and light its menorah—the gold candelabrum whose seven branches represented knowledge and creation and were meant to be kept burning every night. There was only enough untainted olive oil to burn for one night and yet, the flames continued flickering for eight nights, leaving them time to find a fresh supply of oil.
The celebrations of Hanukah for this year have just ended but the message burns brightly, even in the aftermath of the recent terroristic murders of eleven at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue. Hanukkah is a joyous eight-day Festival of Lights in the Hebrew calendar. It is a time when Jews celebrate the Jewish victory over a tyrant king and the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.
We have a choice during this holiday season as to how we respond to the past, our present, and hopes for the future. We can wallow in depression, lamenting the sins and problems of the past or we can choose to think positively and move forward with hope. “Every person can be a small light,” said Hayley Miller, Associate Director of Digital and Social Media of the Human Rights Campaign nonprofit organization. “And just as the small quantity of oil that fueled the miracle of light for eight nights, when we are our authentic selves, we can be a beacon of light that shines.”