For thousands of generations, humans have used the winter solstice as a time not only to note the time of the year when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky at noon but to celebrate and commemorate the beginnings of more sunlight and general renewal of life.

For thousands of generations, humans have used the winter solstice as a time not only to note the time of the year when the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky at noon but to celebrate and commemorate the beginnings of more sunlight and general renewal of life.

In more modern times, if we can consider Hanukkah and Christmas as “modern,” many religions, including Jews and Christians, choose to focus on child-centered activities that also strengthen our adult hopes for world peace and justice.

I say “child-centered” as the celebration activities usually include wonderful stories of heroism, faith and hope that are illustrated by our sharing fellowship with family and friends, excellent food and wonderful visual reminders of what real faith requires of us.

If we’re Jewish, we have the menorah with its nine candles reminding us – by lighting one candle the first night, two the second night and so on – to be faithful even in the face of powerful opposition or oppression. Specifically it recalls the time in 168 B.C. when the Syrian ruler Antiochus ordered the Jews to switch their religious allegiance or face death. Today we add dreidels (four-sided tops), latkes (potato pancakes) and sacred texts to keep our dreams alive.

If we’re Christian, we have the Christmas tree, the manger scene, gifts, excellent food, carols and the New Testament story that tells us about the birth of the Christ child. These symbols, too, remind us to hold sacred the ideal of an eventual kingdom of social justice and peace which, as even Old Testament Isaiah (11:6) envisions, “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb ... and a little child shall lead them.”

Muslims, whose Islamic faith was born closer to the equator, where the winter solstice is a very minor solar event, are still very much a part of the American holiday, as are Hindus, Baha’i and other faiths who, through charitable giving, ringing bells for the Salvation Army, etc., help support activities that strengthen the human goal of creating a more peaceful and just world.

So let me take this opportunity to express my most sincere merry Christmas and happy holiday greetings to you and yours at this most wonderful and beautiful time of the year.

And may I add a little P.S. – that you continue to think of the millions of people in other parts of the world who still live on less than $1 a day and those in our country who lack for the basic necessities of food, good housing and adequate health care.