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Warren Graham's Blog: 12/25/08

Postings by Warren on a variety of timely and (hopefully) interesting topics

Thursday, December 25, 2008

******NEWEST POST******
Happy Holiday? Bah, Humbug!
It is a truism that Chanukah has become the Jewish equivalent of Christmas. This is most obviously demonstrated by the directive of the P.C. Police on high, that everybody wishes each other a Happy (generic) Holiday. I consider this to be insulting to everyone, and to the inherent (and Constitutional) right to celebrate his or her own applicable holiday. Chanukah is most definitely NOT equivalent to Christmas, either in its (proper and traditional) mode of celebration, or its importance to the religious calendar. Christmas is, to all outward appearance, the most important and widely celebrated holiday in the Christian calendar. By all rights, parenthetically, Easter should be much more important, as the celebration by believing Christians of Christ’s resurrection, while Christmas, as we know it today, is of surprisingly recent vintage, and of highly questionable dating on the calendar. But an examination of Christian dogma and practice is beyond the scope of this piece, and surely beyond the expertise of this author.

By contrast, Chanukah, a beautiful and joyous holiday, to be sure, is considered by observant Jews to be relatively minor in the Jewish calendar. By way of example, Jews are permitted to work on Chanukah, drive on Chanukah, write on Chanukah (as I am doing right now), etc. These activities are prohibited to Jews not only on the “major” holidays of the Jewish calendar, but every single week on the Sabbath. I concede, of course, that these rules are mostly honored in the breach by Jews worldwide.

Nevertheless, it bears pointing out that, while nearly every Jew in America can tell you when Chanukah is and, in greatly varying degrees, what the holiday commemorates, I wonder what percentage of them can tell you when and what, for example, Shavuot is, and what it commemorates. I daresay that it is a small minority, indeed. Notwithstanding that, Shavuot (which takes place approximately 7 weeks after Passover) is very much a major holiday to Jews. Its observance is mandated in the Torah, which is what makes it so important. In the days when the Temple in Jerusalem stood, it was one of only three annual holidays on which Jews made pilgrimage and sacrifice to God. In Jewish tradition, it also commemorates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and represents, agriculturally, the festival of the first fruits of the season. The activities described above, while permitted on Chanukah, are proscribed on Shavuot. Chanukah, by contrast, is not commanded to Jews in the Torah; the reason for this is obvious: the events commemorated on that holiday took place at least 1,000 years after the revelation at Sinai. The victory of a small number of Jewish rebels over a exponentially larger force of Greco-Syrian forces and the miracle of a single day’s supply of oil burning for eight days is a wonderful reminder of our heritage, but falls somewhat within the rubric of the old joke about every Jewish holiday being based upon the principle: “they tried to kill us, we won, now let’s eat.”

That being said, there are many rules, regulations and special prayers said on Chanukah (after all, Judaism is a religion very much given to rules, regulations and special prayers). I certainly do not, therefore, mean to diminish Chanukah, but merely to put in into a proper Jewish perspective.

Needless to say, we all know that Chanukah has taken on a very outsize importance, particularly in America. Many or most Jewish children (and perhaps some adults), feeling left out of the beautiful Christmas celebrations, including, most particularly, the music, the decorations and of course, the gifts, have turned our lovely holiday into a Jewish Christmas, involving major gift giving (never a tradition amongst Jews in earlier times). I won’t even get into the question of so-called “Chanukah bushes,” as the very concept makes me gag, so I am unable to write about it.

In recent years, after decades of angst, handwringing and litigation over such issues (add these to the list of things I don’t care about) as Christmas trees and crèches on public property, political correctness seems to require that we take the word “Christmas” out of our vocabulary and replace it with the word “Holiday.” This, presumably, is intended to ensure that everyone, whether he or she celebrates Christmas, Chanukah or Kwanza, feels included in the good cheer. To my astonishment, I have actually heard the term “Holiday Tree” uttered over the last few years. Well, folks, it’s not a “Holiday Tree,” it’s a Christmas tree. I say that knowing that the Christmas tree in the home goes back only to Victorian times among Christians and most certainly is pagan in its origin. Again, 'nuff said about the history of Christian observance.

Many Christians are pushing back against this trend, and rightly so. It is my custom, as it should be everyone’s, I believe, to wish his or her non-Jewish friends and acquaintances a Merry Christmas. Once upon a time, Christian Holidays were frequently an occasion for pogroms against Jews, but that is not the case today, and certainly not in America. Christians are entitled to celebrate their holiday joyously and unashamedly, and to call it by its right name. We Jews, of course, are entitled to the same privilege.

Speaking for myself, I enjoy and appreciate the Christmas (yes, Christmas) season. The decorations are beautiful, as is the music (In addition to the well-known Christmas carols, I particularly enjoy Handel’s Messiah and Ave Maria, for example). It is a welcome relief from what would otherwise be a cold and dreary time of year, with short days and long nights. But I do not delude myself; it is emphatically NOT my holiday, and I appreciate it from a distance, and as an outsider. I see nothing whatever wrong in this, although perhaps, some Jews might differ with me. And I, for one, do not need Chanukah to compensate for the absence of Christmas in my life. Chanukah stands on its own merits, and I enjoy it and celebrate it for what it is: a lovely and meaningful Jewish holiday.

As for us in the Jewish Community, we would be infinitely better off directing our energies hitherto expended in neutering Christmas, to such issues as support for Israel, bringing unaffiliated Jews into “the fold,” and improving the lot of Americans and humankind in general.

Happy Holidays? No, sir! Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Joyous Kwanza, and Happy and Healthy New Year to all of us!