Here comes Hanukkah, no matter how you spell it

The religious scholars tell us (Jews) that Hanukkah (the holiday formerly known as Chanukah) is not among the important holidays on the Jewish calendar.

So why does it get so much prominence, starting at sundown, 4:51 Thursday on the East Coast?

And why do Jewish holidays begin at night anyway?

Well, that’s easy. 

According to the Bible, God was a night owl and created night before day, and thus holidays begin at night. 

As to the prominence, I think that’s explained by Hanukkah’s proximity to Christmas.

The birth of Jesus is a Christian holiday, of course, but I think of it as an American holiday, too. That’s why most people get off from work — it is a federal holiday. (I wonder when the atheists will start raising hell about that — and they don’t even believe in hell!)

Anyway, when I was a kid, I noticed Christmas was a big deal, and sometimes, just a bit, maybe I felt left out, like other Jewish kids. The Christian kids got a ton of presents, which maybe created envy. And Christmas trees are a joy to behold. 

Up steps Hanukkah. The Festival of Lights. 

Hey! You goyim have one day to celebrate? We got eight.

A brief story of Hanukkah: The eight-day celebration commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had risen up against their Greek-Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt.

Oil placed in temple lamps that was to last one night lasted eight nights, per legend. The longer story, if you care.

So American Jews got their own winter holiday, which is not “the Jewish Christmas.”

But we don’t take much offense if you say that.

Why?

Because in America, unlike most of the rest of the world, Jews have been free to practice their religion without much harrassment.

OK, yeah, there were and are some bigots. There were exclusion clauses in housing (and jobs), and Jews were not welcome everywhere, and many universities had quotas. That’s the past. Mostly.

There still are some scummy remains, as we saw in Charlottesville.  “We will not be replaced by Jews!” chanted the morons with the tiki torches. Like we want to replace them at the fryer at Mickey D. Or behind the auto supply counter.

I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but I wonder how many of those knuckle draggers understand the polio shot they took as kids came from a J-E-W? And when they sing “White Christmas,” who wrote it? (For them, a very white Christmas.)

Enough with the identity bragging.

To paraphrase the scholar Chico Escuela, “America been bery, bery good for Jews.”

You turn on the TV and you see “Happy Hanukkah.” On the public square here and there are giant Menorahs.

It means we are welcome, we are appreciated.

We are less than 3% of the population, but we have done all right in Christian America. (Officially, this is not a Christian nation, but it is the overwhelming majority.) 

Thank you. Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. 

16 thoughts on “Here comes Hanukkah, no matter how you spell it”

  1. Well said, Stu, but we should add that your Christian readers may find meaning for all in the serious meaning of Hanukkah. Multiple times in the past three millennia Jewish peoplehood’s survival in our homeland of Israel has hung by the thread. Once of course on the Babylonian destruction of the First Temple and kingdom of Judah in the sixth century BCE, and again on the Roman destruction in 70 and 135 CE. Between those Temples’ destructions, there was a time when the region was ruled by the Seleucid successors of Alexander the Great. One of these rulers sought to stamp out the religion and way of life of the Jewish population of Judaea, and the people, led by the Maccabees, rebelled and secured their independence, centered as before and after in Jerusalem. They cleansed the Temple of the defiling idols, but the one-day’s-oil-supply-lasted-eight-days came later in the Talmud. Hanukkah celebrates a people’s attainment in ancient times of goals honored and attained in America – political and religious freedom. Happy Hanukkah!

  2. Thanks for the great piece, Stu. Only in America can we turn a rather minor holiday into something it was never intended to be – a bigger one. One had to dig to really route out the info regarding it. It’s not really supposed to be about the latkes and lights – but rather (as Jerry V has noted above), a celebration of a people’s attainment, both in ancient and modern times.

  3. Thanks for the history lesson.I was raised catholic but years of catholic school and an avid reader of church history, and common sense turned me into an atheist.However I still love Xmas and all the lights and trees.I see it as an American holiday.As kids we were mostly an Italian S Philly neighborhood with several small Jewish areas.The Jewish kids celebrated Xmas with us and many of them got presents.We all got along great and played and later dated together and in some cases even married.I really miss those days.I must take this opportunity to thank you for your column on line.I always read it in the newspapers It is a breath of fresh air and common sense in an era of PC and,identity politics which is ripping this country apart.Getting back to the holidays New Years Day is really my thing I am a thirty year Mummer and thanks for your support and understanding of us through the years.

  4. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    One way to empathize with Christmas (whatever one’s background and whether religious or not) is to see it as a festival of the family and the hopes of the family.

    Consider, for instance, Handel’s “Messiah,” “For unto us a Child is born”

    See:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFBIJgkj_-g

    (This video runs about 4 Min.)

    Hope and joy are connected, first with the birth of a child. The family is blessed and established. Of course, there are further religious and even political elements to the celebration of a child “whose name shall be called,” “Wonderful,” “Counselor,” “The Mighty God,” “The Everlasting Father,” “The Prince of Peace.”

    But, on the other hand, the notion that a child may be born, a messiah, to lead us to peace is rooted in (“Old Testament”) Judaism. Those doubtful of the theology or the specifics of the theology may still appreciate the celebration of the family and the hopes for the future arising from the birth of a child. Christmas is a celebration of the birth of a special child, “the nativity.” Its older, European, pagan roots are to be found in the celebration of the date in Winter, when the days begin to grow longer again–the birth of a new cycle of growth.

    H.G. Callaway

  5. Philadelphia, PA

    Dear Stu,

    And, Happy Hanukkah!

    Festival of lights and deliverance!

    “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”

    H.G. Callaway

  6. Minor Jewish observation or not, I still wish my Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah (my favored spelling). So many of my Jewish friends’ children have married Christians, I wonder what pressures devolve onto the families at this time of year. Merry Christmas to all, and Happy Chanukah to all. Let the celebration begin! (All you atheists, go stand in the corner and sulk.).

      1. I clicked on the ‘more info’ site in your piece and thank you for the additional enlightenment. And once again I cringe when reading the travails of being Jewish through history. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

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