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[personal profile] smofbabe
My annual winter holiday rant, which might be less necessary this year because of all the publicity about the first night of Chanukah coinciding with Thanksgiving.

I wish I could fit the following policy statement on a button that I could wear for the entire month of December:
"Chanukah is not the Jewish Christmas. Chanukah has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas except that they both fall at approximately the same time of year.

"I know you're trying to include me and not make me feel left out by saying "Merry Christmas or Happy Chanukah," or by including one Chanukah song (usually the obnoxious "I Had a Little Dreidel") in a school's assembly, or by calling the tree that the company puts up in the lobby of all of our buildings a "holiday tree." Instead, you're just aggravating me (especially when you say "Merry Christmas, and a happy Chanukah to all our Jewish friends" when Chanukah is already over). I don't feel left out at all. It's your holiday and this is essentially a Christian country. Have a good time! Celebrate Christmas all you want! Call a Christmas tree a Christmas tree! Just leave my holiday out of it."

I'm well aware that the majority of people in the U.S. celebrate Christmas, and that many do so not because it's a Christian holiday but because it's fun and the lights are pretty and giving and getting presents makes them happy. Nice try, but that does not make Christmas a secular holiday that I want linked to my religion's holiday just because it happens to occur at the same time of year. (Listen closely to the words of most Christmas carols and then try to use the word "secular" again with a straight face.) If people want a secular winter holiday with trees, lights, and presents, I wish they'd change the name but I realize that ship has pretty much sailed.

Chanukah is a minor post-Biblical Jewish holiday commemorating a military victory and a supposed concomitant miracle. Weirdly, it's now the Jewish holiday whose name is most known to Christians, who assume that it is much more important than it is. The best analogy I heard was years ago, when a rabbi gave a sermon imagining that a group of Christians moved to a country where the predominant religion had a major holiday in February. To make the Christians feel better, the citizens decided to make a big deal out of Valentines Day. Thanks, but no thanks.

So much for my rant to Christians. Now for my rant to Jews.

When I was young, Chanukah was a holiday for kids -- to keep them interested for all 8 nights of the holiday, parents gave them little presents each night. Adults never gave each other presents, and no one exchanged cards. Now, Chanukah appears to be going the secular way of Christmas. Jews who can't quite bring themselves to have a Christmas tree still get into mailing out fancy cards and giving each other expensive gifts. And some Jews do have a Christmas tree -- many justifying it by saying that Christmas is now a secular holiday and they just like the look of the tree and the lights. My answer to them is: if you like having a decorated tree and lights on your house and you're not doing it to celebrate Christmas, do it in June.

If you celebrate a holiday at this time of year, I hope you have a wonderful time!

Date: 2013-11-28 08:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, the tree and lights aren't Christian at all; they're the signs of the midwinter festival and so yes, June would be a great choice for Australians. Feasting too. If you live somewhere as far north as the UK, where it's not unusual to leave your home in darkness in the morning for work or school, and return in darkness in the late afternoon, a midwinter festival of lights, warmth and feasting is really important. Which was why it was adopted by the Christians of course. People talk about it as being a pagan festival, but really, I think it's just a reaction to the cold and dark.

Christmas isn't the primary Christian holiday either of course; that would be Easter. But we don't seem to have that underlying need for a big spring festival.

Date: 2013-11-28 09:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The tree aspect of Christmas pretty much is secular, isn't it? And while there are a lot of Christmas carols, there are also Christmas songs - Frosty the Snowman, Here It Is Merry Christmas, Driving Home for Christmas, Deck the Halls, Let it Snow and so on... In the UK where we don't have Thanksgiving, Christmas is very much a celebration for non-religious people and it's the family time of year. I don't believe in any god, I don't "do" religion, but I will still celebrate Christmas because it's a fun thing for me and my family to do.

Date: 2013-11-28 10:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
We celebrate midwinter and the turn of the year, and we can therefore have a tree and lights and presents and feasting if we like. All of those are pre-Christian. The presents (and possibly the tree)come from the Roman Saturnalia.

Date: 2013-11-28 04:49 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Note that the secular discussion in my post is mainly for the Jews or for people who argue that it's ok to link Chanukah with Christmas because they're all just winter holidays, not anything about atheists or Christians choosing to celebrate it.

Date: 2013-11-28 10:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Christmas seems to have become a really big deal in the nineteenth century as part of the shift from "died for us" to "born for us".

After the row the year Channukah and Christmas coincided: "But you are an aetheist! Why do you even *care* about Christmas?" We now celebrate Newton's birthday on the 25th-- apple stuffing, calvados, and tarte tatin--and Chanukah at Chanuka (latkes last night, sadly, diet for the rest of the week).

But I am totally with you. I'm feeling it more now because I'm one of only two Jews I know of on staff. It's making me feel a lot more Jewish (and I do have to keep reminding nearest and dearest, that I may be a *lapsed* Jew but I am most definitely neither an aetheist or even wholly secular).

Date: 2013-11-28 10:40 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
As you may know, my Chanukah rant is that it's the holiday that started when idiots practicing the majority religion thought that we Jews were waging war on their winter holiday when all we wanted to do was mind our own business, and they finally got so annoying about it that we had to kick their ass. Contemporary relevance is left to the reader.

Date: 2013-11-29 12:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are certainly Christians who are irked at the yoking of their little religious holy day, celebrating the presumed birth date of Jesus, with this giant secular solstice festival, and wish they could be separated, which would be even harder to do than to separate Chanukah.

There are in fact secular Christmas carols: "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Silver Bells" and "Jingle Bells" and even "White Christmas" have been interspersed with the religious carols on any such program I've attended that wasn't explicitly religious in nature, and even some that were. I prefer the religious ones, actually. I respect the Christian holy day more than I like the secular festival.

I'd suggest that Valentine's Day is not a good analogy. It isn't a Christian liturgical holiday, whereas Chanukah is at least genuinely on the Jewish religious calendar. A better comparison might be Mardi Gras, which, while not a Christian liturgical holiday either, is at least a) tied to one, b) certainly festive, c) has a history of being co-opted.

How unimportant is Chanukah, anyway? How many week-plus holidays do we have? Four? Pesach, the High Holy Days (counted all together), Sukkot/Simchat Torah (counted together), Chanukah. Surely it's no less inherently prominent than Purim or Shavuot (the latter of which was pretty much ignored where I grew up).

Date: 2013-11-29 06:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Of course Mardi Gras is already a big deal in Louisiana; though it's getting detached from its religious aspect as a precursor to Lent. Any grocery store with a bakery will have King Cakes for sale beginning after Christmas; the party supply stores sell decorations and costumes as much as they do for Halloween.

Date: 2013-11-30 10:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
From a religious point of view, it makes a difference, and it's not based on the eight days of observance. Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanna and Yom Kippur are all mandated as major holy days in the Torah. Purim and Chanukah are post Biblical "festivals" without restrictions on work or daily activities.

Date: 2013-12-01 06:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There are in fact secular Christmas carols

First, I didn't say that there weren't also secular Christmas carols, just that there are many religious ones plus, you know, the holiday's name.

How unimportant is Chanukah, anyway? How many week-plus holidays do we have? Four? Pesach, the High Holy Days (counted all together), Sukkot/Simchat Torah (counted together), Chanukah. Surely it's no less inherently prominent than Purim or Shavuot

It's not the size that counts :-> As [ profile] eackerman noted, it's considered a minor holiday because it's post-Biblical.

Date: 2013-12-01 02:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I like to say, "As I understand it, Christmas is about peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Chanukah is about picking up swords and stabbing people who try to impose their cultural values on you."

That usually shuts down the discussion.[g]

Date: 2013-12-01 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You wrote, "Listen closely to the words of most Christmas carols and then try to use the word "secular" again with a straight face."

There are well over enough secular carols that I can do that.


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