The holiday season is upon us, and joy is in the air. The smells, sounds and sights of the holidays are all around us as we work and vacation. Hopefully, we make the holidays a time of reflection, prayer, and the appreciation of true prosperity -- the appreciation of and happiness with our lot. It is fitting that following Thanksgiving, fundamentally a religious holiday, and before Hanukkah and Christmas, we take time to consider what the Judeo-Christian tradition has to teach us about the nature of holidays.

The earliest references to holidays in the Bible involve the use of terms like "appointed time" (Hebrew: mo'ed) and "holy convocation" (Hebrew: miqra qodesh). The English word "holiday" means "holy day" -- a time (an entire day) that is designated as holy. The word "holy" in the language of Bible carried several different connotations. The Hebrew "qodesh" is similar to an Akkadian word which means to shine or radiate -- a holy thing stands out as special. The term also means something that is separated from the ordinary. Finally, the Bible uses the term "holy" to refer to a covenant -- an agreement -- between God and man, an arrangement that originated with the Bible. Having a lasting agreement with God is, after all, something out of the ordinary, and something that involves removing ourselves from the natural realm of the earth in order to establish a relationship with God, whose realm is in Heaven.

How do we separate ourselves? What does it mean to have a day when we are devoted to God? The earliest discussions of holidays in the Bible outline different important elements in the proper observance of holidays. Each involves both celebration and obligation. Together, they allow us to enjoy true freedom on holidays. The fulfillment of both occurs when we choose to both be happy and exercise our responsibilities as free and moral actors.

The Bible actually issued commands to rejoice on holidays. A true holiday does not merely involve the deriving of pleasure from celebration, but helping to allow others to celebrate as well. The Bible explicitly says not to abandon the needy on the holidays, and so the provision of charity to the needy is a necessary obligation.

On the other hand, charity allows us to truly enjoy the day, as we feel content with having aided others less fortunate than ourselves. Sacrifice is an integral part of holiday celebrations in the Bible. Sacrifice is certainly an obligation, but we also derive benefit from it as well, by committing ourselves to the Divine.

Finally, we perform rituals, in which we put ideas into action. Rituals can be very pleasant, but they also remind us of our obligations to preserve, develop, and pass down the history and ideas that holidays involve. In this way, we preserve the tradition -- traditio in Latin -- literally, to give over. This holiday season, may we fulfill our obligations, rejoice in the process, and successfully transmit our tradition.

CONGREGATION AHAVATH ACHIM, Orthodox

1571 Stratfield Road, Fairfield / 203-372-6529

www.ahavathachim.org

HISTORY: The congregation is 106 years old; the current synagogue was built in 1959.

PROGRAMS: Men's Club, Book Club, Women's Rosh Chodesh Tehillim Group, Tea & Torah Golden Age Group. Also located at the synagogue's address is the Hillel Academy, a Jewish day school for children in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

COMING EVENTS: The synagogue will host a Melave Malka Hanukkah Party on Sat., Dec. 4, at 5:45 p.m., open to the public. It will feature pizza, music, jelly doughnuts for Hanukkah and a menorah-lighting.