Monday, December 26, 2005

Xmas and Channukah = Oil and water

Very well written.

From here:

Hanukkah: It's truly a miracle

Jordana Horn Marinoff

When I was a child, growing up in suburban New Jersey, I always looked forward to this time of year. I loved watching the neighbors put up their Christmas lights, which would sparkle in the night as I peeked out my window after bedtime. One day, I told my parents how pretty the lights were. That night, we got in the car after dark and drove around the neighborhood, admiring the multicolored displays of blinking lights.

"Why can't we have lights in front of our house?" I asked as we drove up our driveway into the garage. Compared to everyone else's, our house looked like the Death Star.

"Because those are Christmas lights, and we're Jewish," my mom answered.

Well, I was 8 or so, but I wasn't stupid. "I know," I said, "but isn't Hanukkah the festival of lights?" Got her there, I thought.

She smiled. "Yes, but those lights are Christmas lights. We have our candle lights in the menorah for Hanukkah. Hanukkah and Christmas are very different."

They sure are.

The attempt to equate the two holidays drives me insane every year. "Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah." Other than falling at approximately the same time of year, the two holidays are nothing alike. Christmas is a beautiful, sacred and special holiday. For Christians. Not me.
Why should I have to protest this point? Because if you don't celebrate Christmas, or "get in the Christmas spirit," you're labeled a Grinch. Because, thanks to going to an American public high school, having a television set, and just generally living in everyday American society, I know every word of every Christmas carol.

And I suppose that's why bits of Christmas trickle into Hanukkah. Families give in to the spirit of the day, the retail season, the pressures of assimilation. They put a tree in their living room, calling it a "Hanukkah bush"; they have a big family meal on Christmas and exchange gifts, because "it's so much fun!"

"We'll let our kids choose which religion they want to practice," I hear so many parents of mixed Jewish-Christian households assert confidently.

Hmm, let's see - as a kid, would I go with the religion with the colored lights, the fun fat guy who gives presents and the bunny with the eggs, or the one with the weird eating restrictions and the history of persecution?

Contrary to what most people may think, giving gifts isn't a cornerstone of Hanukkah. Dreidels, gelt, sure, but it's not the focal point of the holiday. Hannukah is actually all about being Jewish - and not giving into pressure to be anything else.

The holiday commemorates the story of a rebellion against the Greek king of Syria, who tried to crush the Jews into submission by not allowing them to practice their faith way back in 165 B.C. Led by a rebel, Judah Maccabee, and his family, the Jews rose up against the king and defeated him. The Temple in Jerusalem, however, had been desecrated by the king, and there was only enough oil to light the menorah for one day. By way of a miracle, the oil lasted for eight and the Jews could rebuild.

The rebellion started in the town of 'Modi'in in modern-day Israel, where a Greek officer commanded the townspeople to bow before an idol and eat pork - both forbidden by Jewish law. The resident elder (and Judah Maccabee's father), Mattathias, refused to do it. Another villager stepped forward and said he would do it instead. In anger, Mattathias killed the villager and then the officer, starting the war which would lead to the defeat of the much more powerful king. The uprising began with one man's assertion of identity: his recognition that he would not be, and could not be, anything other than what he was. His pride in his Judaism ensured his survival - and, ultimately, the religion's as well.

I've always taken being Jewish seriously, in no small part because I believe it is incumbent upon me to do so. After all, I am heir to an amazing intellectual, religious, ethical and historical legacy, thousands of years old. I have the good fortune of having had great-grandparents who took the long boat ride from Eastern Europe to the United States - sparing themselves the carnage of the Cossacks, and their children and grandchildren from certain death at the hands of the Nazis 60 years later. All of the historical cards have fallen into place to deal me a winning hand: a country in which I can practice and learn about my religion freely.

In light of all this (yes, pun intended), every year, I can't help but think that Hanukkah truly is a miracle. And so, every year, surrounded by twinkling reindeer, pine wreaths and colored lights, we put the menorah in our window, light the candles and celebrate our heritage, watching the candles flicker against the darkness.