On the surface, it seems like a gesture of respect and equal time -- the giant menorah erected in Daley Plaza just a few dozen feet from the city's official Christmas tree.
For eight days, anyone passing through Chicago's unofficial public square can share in spirit of celebrating the Maccabees, who through a miracle of sorts managed to have their lamps with enough oilk for one night burn brightly for eight days.
IT'S NOT JUST Chicago that gives this conciliatory gesture to Jewish people.
Just this week, officials with the park district in Naperville approved the erection of a giant menorah next to the Santa House that is a local tradition. Park district officials gave in to the menorah even though their attorneys (according to the Daily Herald newspaper of Arlington Heights) were telling them there was some legal grounds for keeping the Santa House grounds Christmas-only.
So it won't just be downtown Chicago wehre people can share in the concept of Hanukkah. Others will be abel to watch in confusion or in anger as the various lights on top of the "candles" light up each night.
I suspect many people will be engaged in the hustle and bustle of the commercial aspects of the holiday season to pay these public menorahs much attention. Except for the few people who will perceive them as a "War on Christmas" because they'd rather everybody be forced to pay exclusive attention to the Christmas holiday.
THEY'RE THE ONES who probably remember fondly the episode of "The Simpsons" where Krusty the Klown's non-denominational winter holiday special told us to have a "Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Crazy Kwanzaa, Solemn and Dignified Ramadan and a Tip-Top Tet."
Yet I can't help but wonder about these giant menorahs and what point they really serve, other than to force certain political people to accept the fact that not everyone in this nation is of a Christian religious denomination.
I still remember a discussion I had a couple of decades ago with a co-worker who was Jewish. She told me she found the whole concept of a giant public menorah to be somewhat gaudy.
After all, the whole point of the menorah and the lighting of the candles on each of the eight days of the holiday (which this year began at sundown Friday and continues through the end of next week) is to create a moment in a Jewish household when everybody engages in the requisite prayers in Hebrew (even though for some Jewish people, those prayers are the only Hebrew they know) and pays a few moments tribute to the thought of the Maccabees of thousands of years ago who struggled to survive under odds that would have wiped out anyone else.
PUTTING UP THE large-scale versions of a menorah does border on crass. It's almost as tacky as some of those Santa Claus holiday displays erected in the name of Christmas -- in mid-October.
Does this mean that the true point of a public menorah is that some Jewish groups are showing us they can celebrate their holiday in as tacky a manner as some Christians do with Christmas?
I'd hate to think that is the case. But that doesn't mean I'm wrong.
So as much as I can appreciate the concept of "equal time" and also enjoy the rage that some of these "War on Christmas" types express when they get all worked up over not having their "holiday" reign supreme at this time of year, I'm not sure I see the point.
SO THIS IS what will be going through my mind this weekend, as I'm likely to spend some time with my father and step-mother, who is Jewish. That also means the bulk of my nieces and nephews are being raised Jewish (and are likely to make out this weekend with presents as much as any Christian kid the morning of Dec. 25).
In my own way, I'll even be partaking in Hanukkah (we're gathering Sunday for a holiday party that will include the moment of truth at the menorah). The rest of the week will consist of just a few moments of reflection by my stepmother and whichever of her grandchildren happen to be on hand -- as she tries to pass along the custom to the next generation.
It seems to be to be a more dignified act than anything involving a trip to a public place to look at a giant menorah at the exact moment that another "candle" is lit.
And come Christmas Day, I'm likely to spend a good portion of the day with my mother and other family in holiday celebration.
SO IF FOR me it seems like the whole idea of dueling holidays is just a tad absurd, you'd be correct. There's no reason that there has to be a holiday conflict this time of year. Unless you happen to be the disagreeable type who is looking for a reason to be upset.
In which case, you're just a Grinch.