Monday, December 05, 2005

The War Against Chanukah

Faith, Fact And Fiction ~ A Holiday Story

At this time of year, it is customary to wish neighbors and friends -- regardless of faith -- "happy holidays," and to express greetings of the season (be it the season of religious celebration, family reunification, or, as this blogger's daughter sees it, shopping exploration).

Indeed, we'd like to say "happy holidays" to our many readers, but we dare not, lest a gaggle of lawyers in the pocket of the American Family Association and other like-mindless groups, descend upon our humble cyber space with subpoenae and Temporary Restraining Orders.

Let's start with a basic premise, adopted some years back by churches and religious organizations of repute, that we should "keep Christ in Christmas." That makes sense. After all, Christmas isn't about half-off sales at Bloomingdale's or adorning the tree with Bill O'Reilly Christmas ornaments (Kate, why didn't you think of that?). No, it is about the celebration of the birth of the man who a majority of Americans believe is the Savior.

Whether the Savior has come, is still to come, is poised to come again, or should bother coming at all (did we cover all possibilities here?) is a question for debate among Theologians. What is not at issue is that the birth of Christ has nothing to do with shopping -- other than for the requisite frankincense and myrrh. If Christ were walking on water, or down Main Street, today, surely he'd not be sporting an "I'm your homeboy" tee shirt, or hawking WWJD bracelets on the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway. Then again, Jesus was purported to be quite the salesman.

The purists were right on point -- keep Christ in Christmas, and out of the mall! So what's with all the hubbub from the religious right (where else?) about corporate America not exhibiting that old Christmas spirit? The folks who wanted Christ kept in Christmas now take offense -- and call for boycotts, no less -- because there's not enough Christmas in the marketplace. "There those left-wing Liberal grinches go again -- stealing Christmas." Why, the American Family Association, for one, has gone so far as to target Target for, of all things, greeting shoppers with "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas." Clearly, such heretics should be detained as "Grinches of Interest" in this latest battle in the War Against Christmas. Pray tell, is Christmas "in" at the places we shop, or out? Make up your minds, for Christ's sake!

We all know its Christmas. If there is a "war" against it -- or so much as a skirmish -- you wouldn't know it to read the papers, watch the television, or shop at Sears. Doubtful anyone strolling along Main Street, USA could miss it. The stores -- particularly the big boxes -- began to remind us of this fact shortly after Columbus Day. The garland and wreaths, bedecked trees and Santa Claus, wooden soldiers and nativity scenes, shout "Christmas" across the land. And that's a good thing. For the celebration of Christmas has become as much a celebration of the human spirit, of hope for mankind, and of the goodness in all of us for secular America, as the birth, life, death, resurrection and purported second coming of Christ has become a rallying call for religious America. Either way, whatever your perspective, Christmas, in its many and varied forms, has not been forgotten, let alone besieged. So please, give the holier than thou rhetoric a rest already, will ya? ["Creche, Creche, Creche. That's all you do. Are you sure you aren't Jewish?"]

On the other side of the American holiday coin, we have Chanukah. Now there's a holiday that's pushed aside both by corporate America and our friends waiting in the right wings to take America back (back to what, we're almost afraid to ask). Just try to find a Chunukah dreidel (the spinning top, for those who are uninitiated) among the plethora of holiday -- oops, we mean Christmas -- displays, or to pick out a symbolic Chanukah gift hidden in the forest of Christmas -- oops, we mean holiday -- trees. [That's okay, we'll take the Chanukah "gelt" in lieu of a formal gift -- hold the wrapping paper.]

Unlike Christmas, Chanukah is not a religious celebration. No mention of it is to be found in the Torah or other liturgy. There are no special feasts or, for that matter, fasts. Chanukah celebrates the triumph of a people over oppression -- a victory by the minority over the tyranny of the majority. It is, at its core, a celebration of religious freedom and religious tolerance. [A lesson which should not be lost -- although we fear it is -- on the religious right, as they do everything within their self-proclaimed power to stuff their narrow-minded dogma down our throats!]

In fact, as Jewish holidays go, Chanukah is a rather minor blip on the map of Judea. And yet, Chanukah has become -- as Kwaanza will surely follow -- as much a part of the nation's landscape as Christmas, and almost as great a commercial success. Only in America.

Among Jews, there is a growing concern that Chanukah, like Christmas, has too little of the spirit and too much of the "better to receive." And so, it is with this in mind, and in the true spirit of the season, that The Community Alliance picks up the gauntlet, and begins the crusade (the anti-Inqusition?) to PUT THE OIL BACK IN CHANUKAH.

Yes, Put The Oil Back In Chanukah. You see, at Chanukah's very foundation is oil. No, not that Texas Tea "W" is killing us all for in the Middle East, rather, the stuff that was supposed to last for only one day, but, miraculously, burned in the lamp of the Temple for eight days. [You hear that, Richie Kessel?]

Traditionally, Jews around the world celebrate Chanukah by cooking -- and eating, let's not forget that -- foods saturated in oil. Potato pancakes (latkes), sufganiyot (donuts), chocolates (which have some kind of oil), and other oil-based, basted, or just plain old fried goodies.

Lately, with all the worry of cholesterol, the diet fads, and the cost of a barrel of oil, Jews have begun cutting back. We hear that in some homes, oil has been banished in its entirety, replaced by oil-substitutes like Benacol and "I Can't Believe This Isn't A Tub Of Lard Clogging Every Last Artery." No oil, no latkes. No oil, no sufganiyot. No oil, and the only chocolate will be gambled away at the dreidel table.

When, several months ago, The Community Alliance encouraged Americans to boycott oil, we meant Exxon-Mobil, not Wesson.

Slowly, if ever so, the meaning of Chanukah -- not to mention the greasy, gooey residue -- is being drained away. Such is the War Against Chanukah. At first, we hardly notice it. We replace the oil in our lamps with wax candles -- alas, we're lucky if they burn for an hour, let alone eight days -- or worse yet, electric candles (warming the cockles of LIPA's heart). Before we know it, we are as bereft of oil as the local gas station during the Carter administration, and not a Dobson, Gibson or O'Reilly in sight to get us back on track.

It remains for us, then, and for you, as guardians of the faith and defenders of the flame, to get out the word. Stop burning the Chanukah candle at both ends. Burn, instead, the midnight oil. Pour that Mazola (it all comes back, except for that one tablespoon that's lodged somewhere between the large intestine and the carotid artery), and help us Put The Oil Back in Chanukah!

As for JC, or Judah Maccabee, if you prefer, just what would they do were they among us (physically -- let's not start that argument) as we celebrate the holidays this two thousand and fifth year, AD (or 5766, but who's counting)? First, Jesus would lament that instead of two presents, he's only getting one -- his birthday falling on Christmas. Judah would bemoan the fact that, notwithstanding the passage of the centuries (being older but no wiser), the majority ("moral" and otherwise) continues to oppress, repress, persecute and dress down the minority. Then, they'd probably hit the malls. You wouldn't believe the bargains you can find on a good pair of sandals. And once "shopped out," they'd look around, to the left and to the right, and exclaim with a cool resignation, "Forgive them, for they know not what they do!" [Or, as it translates from the Yiddish, "Would you stop with the mishagas (nonsense) already?"]

At the risk of incurring the wrath of the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Family Association, Bill O'Reilly, or Madeline Murray O'Hare, Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwaanza, and Happy Holidays to you!
- - -
Please visit The Community Alliance Gift Shop for all of your holiday (oops) needs. Once again, we will feature many of your holiday (sorry) favorites, including:
The Boxed Set of Kate Murray's Hempstead for the Holidays (available on 4 CDs or 3482 vinyl glossies);
The White House Chanukah Bush (or was that a Bush Chanukah? -- we're so confused) - now available, for the first time, in burning and non-flamable versions;
The Complete Christmas Songbook, with beloved favorites like, "I Saw Tony Santino Kissing Santa Claus" (not that there's anything wrong with that);
The unabridged Grinch That Stole The Reassessment (with forward by Tax Assessor, Harvey Levinson); and what's sure to be the best seller of 2006,
Tom Suozzi's To Albany's House We Go - With All The Fixin's (as sung by Burl Ives).

Happy Holidays (oooh. Sorry.) to all, and to all a good night!
- - -


  1. If you REALLY want to get technical, Christmas is NOT A RELIGIOUS HOLIDAY EITHER! The bible never mentions the date or time of the birth of Christ. Historically, December 21st or thereabouts was the celebration of Winter Solstice by European countries. Many traditions have come to be celebrated as part of Christmas that eminated from Winter Solstice (i.e.: the tree, the ornaments, Kris Kringle, etc.). Further, most scholarly articles report that Christ was born in the early spring, since the shepards were already on the mountainsides with their flocks of sheep. Most scholars recognize dates near or around March as Christ's date of birth (astrological tables bear this proof as well).

    The principle behind the holiday season is to share faith, love, family values and a sense of giving and caring. As you can see, the holiday has LESS to do with religion, but the fundamental beliefs that religion exudes is what the holiday season is all about. Does a tree bother me? Does a cross or Chanukah signs and menorah lighting bother me? (well, it is a correct historical event, whether a religious holiday or not). Of course not. But I partake in charitable giving, loving my neighbors, caring for those less fortunate as I, etc. THAT is what the holiday season is trying to teach us to do every day of the year. I LOVE hearing Christmas carols. I even join churches and choirs to sing with. Handl's Messiah is a beautiful experience to observe. Commercialism has killed the very essence of the holiday season - not religion.

    With all that said, I hope ALL find the peace, love and happiness that holiday seasons are all about.

  2. Actually, its neocons like Dr. Dobson, Bill O'Reilly and John Gibson who are killing the "very essence of the holiday season" by wielding religion - and extreme religious doctrine - as a threatening sword dangling perilously over our heads.

    Lord knows, their strategy works, at least in terms of getting the media's attention and in raising lots of money from the "faithful" (their real worship is, after all, of the Almighty Dollar).

    Maybe what we need in America is not so much freedom OF religion (we have plenty of that, thank God), but a little freedom FROM religion.

    My wish for the holidays is that, for once, Bill O'Reilly & Company would give us a Silent Night! :-)