The Two Christmases (and that Other Holiday)

I've already offered some thoughts on the cultural battle I enjoy so much every year, but I wanted to approach it from another angle, as well.  Specifically, I want to discuss Hanukkah, and the push to get displays included in public places along side Christmas ones.

You might not know it from my involvement with the site, but I'm actually Jewish.  I'm non-practicing, but that doesn't change the fact I'm in the club (lifetime membership, and all).  My mother was raised Jewish, and my father was raised Christian.  Neither of my parents were ever what I'd describe as religious, but they respected tradition.

As such, I grew up celebrating two holidays every year.  The larger gifts were saved for Christmas morning, but we usually received a few small items and candy throughout Hanukkah.  You might think that would make Hanukkah irrelevant to a kid, but that wasn't the effect.  My family would gather together, sing Hanukkah songs as best we could (my mother was the only one who'd ever properly learned the Hebrew versions, so I'm sure the rest of us butchered the lyrics), and light the candles.

Growing up, Christmas felt big.  Christmas felt magical.

But Hanukkah felt sacred.

That's why I get a little confused whenever I hear someone is lobbying to put up a giant menorah to stand up to the sweeping yule-tide of Christmas cheer.  See, in my mind, Hanukkah was always better than that.  It was the holiday without all the pomp and circumstance, without the decoration.

The title mentions two Christmases.  This is because, in actuality, there are two separate holidays.  There's the Christmas I celebrate - that this website promotes, that holiday specials plaster over television screens, and malls vomit up - and then there's a second holiday I usually dismiss.  It's the Christian version of my Hanukkah: the Christmas celebrated by people of faith who spend it with their family or community.  This latter Christmas, for all intents and purposes, has been engulfed by the commercial Christmas.  Personally, I love that fact, but I can understand why not everyone shares my enthusiasm.

The point I wanted to build to is this: that first Christmas is unquenchable.  If you feed it Hanukkah, it will eat it.  That Christmas has nothing to do with the birth of Christ - it's a solar celebration that has endured, been assimilated by, and then assimilated countless cultures and traditions.  Hanukkah can be part of that.  Oversized menorahs and dreidels could be built in every mall, and I'm sure the baptists will be furious.

But is that really what you want?

I certainly understand why there's a push for more decorations and for Jewish holiday specials.  Culturally, they can give kids a sense of cultural relevance and place.  Contrary to my flippant comments about the culture war, I don't begrudge anyone for wanting that.  But I would caution anyone out there to stop, take a good long look at Christmas, and decide if they really want thousands of years of tradition tied up with Frosty the Snowman.