The musings of one Andrew Langer - defender of liberty, passionate protector of individual rights, foodie. (Note: Said Musings of Andrew Langer are his own, and the views represented herein are likewise his views, and not the views of any other people, entities, foodstuffs, etc [unless otherwise specifically and explicitly noted].)

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Hannukah and Christmas

Back in January, I happened to mention that I'd had a busy "Christmas Season". This prompted someone to comment, asking about whether or not I "supported" both Christmas and Hannukah - as though the two holidays were in conflict. I'm not sure what was meant by "supporting" the holidays, but I did talk about celebrating both of them, because I do. This prompted the following question:

"Don't know how you can celebrate X-mas and Hanukkah. Are you Messianic? Confused?"

I'd written out a comment, but decided that it was long enough to put it up here. To answer:

I'm neither messianic nor confused. You make that statement as though the two holidays are contradictory or in conflict, which, in fact, they really aren't.

Both holidays celebrate historical events. Hannukah commemorates the rededication of the Temple, and the "miracle" of the ceremonial oil lasting for 8 days when it should have only lasted for 1. This took place around 165 BC, following the defeat of the Selucids by Judah and the Maccabees.

Christmas, of course, commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ. While there is some speculation as to whether Jesus was actually born in December, it is undisputed that he was born and that he lived in Judea.

If you recognize that Christianity descends from Judaism, and that Hannukah as a celebration pre-dates the birth of Christianity as a holiday, then there is no conflict. Hannukah doesn't deny anything in Christian faith, nor does Christianity deny the celebration of Hannukah. The same holds true with other Jewish holidays: I have a number of Christian friends who celebrate Passover by participating in a seder (after all, the last supper was a Seder), and have done so for many years - some long before I knew them and some who started after having Seder with my family.

I could see some concern were I truly celebrating Saturnalia - the Roman Winter Solstice festival giving thanks to Saturn. Historically, there is a theory that the Christians chose that time to commemorate Christmas - and, in fact, there are many similarities between the Saturnalic rituals and Christmas: work and educational holidays, the decoration of evergreen trees inside homes, the exchanging of gifts. Much in the same way that modern Jews elevated a minor holiday like Hannukah (which isn't one of the big four religious holidays on the religious calendar: Purim, Passover, Rosh Hashona and Yom Kippur). The Christians wanted to have a holiday surrounding something familiar to many - likewise, modern Jews wanted their children to have a celebration like their Christian friends.

In the end, Christmas is about, as Linus Van Pelt (yes, of "Peanuts" fame) put it best: Peace on Earth and Goodwill Towards Man. See the picture above from the "Charlie Brown Christmas Special" (not "Holiday" special: an important point).

Who doesn't support a sentiment like that?

And don't underestimate the seminal importance of that special. Much like "Schoolhouse Rock", that cartoon taught a lasting lesson to the kids of my generation.

As for me, and this might be more information than I might be normally willing to share, I was raised in a multi-denominational environment where we were taught to learn about and respect other faiths. I currently live in a multi-denominational environment as well.

Knowledge and respect leads to understanding and friendship. Ignorance and disrespect lead to conflict and hatred.

So, does that answer your question?

And because we're starting in on "reading books" in our household, I have some questions for you, in "reading book" format:

1) Do you now understand why there is no conflict between Christmas and Hannukah? If not, where do you see a conflict?

2) What are the author's reasons for recognizing both holidays?

3) Tell us a bit about your faith. What holidays do you celebrate, and how do you celebrate them?

- Andrew Langer

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