Wednesday, December 24, 2008

christmas, chanuka, vacation

I have always rather liked Christmas, despite or perhaps because of my being Jewish. In an increasingly atomized society, it is nice to have a season in which people shed the notion of neutrality and admit, or indeed celebrate, their belonging to something beyond the current time and place. That many key elements have little if anything to do with Christmas--most appear to be German or Dutch folk traditions and many of the best songs were written by Jews--is almost beside the point.

Christmas does present some difficult choices for Jews, which are only slightly mitigated when Chanuka overlaps it, as it does this year. The irony, of course, is that Chanuka--whether by coincidence of design--celebrates precisely that resistance to assimilation that is most challenged this time of year. The rabbis, though, were no fools. Rather than emphasizing the military aspect, they stressed the miracle of one day's oil burning for eight and the spiritual purity of the Maccabees as opposed to their pagan enemies. Whether this conforms to reality is, once again, less important than the choices it suggests and the moral vision it entails.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanuka, and I'll be back with more taxes and politics tomorrow. Or the day after.


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