Posts Tagged With: hanukkah

The Trouble With Santa Claus–or–I’ll Be Watching You

holidayWhat does Santa Claus teach children in our society?  Really, the whole ethos of christmas in modern times is effected by this legendary character and his eight diminutive ruminants (or nine if you add in Gene Autry’s favorite).  As we inch along in our cars, in traffic jams that seem to last for a month–don’t go anywhere near the mall!–many of us get nauseated from the obvious commercial ramifications brought on by this creation of Macy’s and Coca Cola.  Those with children who are subject to the stalker persona from the cold north–the tune to I’ll Be Watching You by The Police comes to mind–say that its wonderful for their children.  They say that it, “encourages a belief in the supernatural,” or that it, “teaches them the beauty of giving.”  Is such a figure really necessary for all that?  Is it really the healthiest way to raise children toward these goals?

I had some returns to make at Lowes a couple of weeks ago.  As the woman was scanning the items, she asked (without looking up), “are you all ready for christmas?”  I smirked to myself a little bit and replied, “about as ready as I can get.”  She looked up, saw the kippah on my head and said, “oh!  happy haunukkah.”  She didn’t seem disappointed or anything, it was just a departure from what she expected.  I told her thank you, then asked her if she was ready for christmas.  “Oh no,” she said, “not hardly.”  Friends and family have also expressed this circumstance.  Regardless of who I’m talking to, my response is usually the same, “wouldn’t it be so nice if all you had to worry about was making and eating a nice meal, and relaxing with loved ones?”

Isn’t that really what the holiday should be about?  Easter is more like this for most christians that I know.  Jewish holidays are pretty much all centered around this.  In fact, it is commonly said that every jewish holiday can be summarized with the phrase, “they tried to kill us, we won, lets eat!”  The most important and frequent holiday in judaism is shabbat (the sabbath), during which we are enjoined to eat three full meals, and to not perform any work.  I’ll not get into the particulars of what “work” means in the context of torah (If you would like to read more about that, http://www.aish.com, and similar websites have many articles on what that means), but it is most likely not what you think.  Basically, shabbat observance consists of not exerting our will upon the physical world, attempting to live in a more spiritual plane of existence similar to “paradise” or “heaven;” similar to the elemental existence in the garden of eden.  I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of people in the world, if they ever fully experienced a properly kept shabbat, would look forward to doing such a thing at any opportunity.

But even with the understanding of the stress that people let themselves feel–immediately and for a long time thanks to the gift of credit–in relation to the obligatory materialism of such “traditions,” year after year they flock back for more punishment.  Even in judaism (in america) there isn’t much relief from such experiences, as Hanukkah has become “jewish christmas” for many who buy presents for all eight nights.  I even ended up doing this this year.  Usually, I am pretty steadfastly against presents on Hanukkah, as I don’t want to confuse the holiday to myself or my kids.  This year though, I really wanted to buy them stuff!  Now granted, I bought them mostly stuff they needed or could really use anyway– gloves, scarves, slippers, art sets, and books–but I did buy a few frivolous things that I knew they’d get a kick out of.  It did make it a bit more special for all of us.

I wonder if it was a mistake to do this.  Will they expect it next year as well?  As their mother and they are still celebrating christmas–albeit in a completely secular way–there was talk this evening about Santa Claus.  This was interesting to me, because they all have known that Santa isn’t real for the last four years.  I guess they still enjoy the mystique, the character, and the spirit of this style of gift giving.  I can’t blame them!  Perhaps it would be better if we, in this society, just taught through example that everyone is “santa claus” if they choose to be.  Instead of attributing these things to a make-believe character, wouldn’t it be more wonderful if the children were shown that real people sometimes just want to be nice to others and give them presents?  For years I have been trying to convince people that I would much rather just get a letter or a gift out of the blue, just because they saw something they knew I’d love.  So far, despite my best efforts to do this, it has not met with success.

I think the reason is that without obligation, many of us just won’t do it, even if we know that its the right thing to do.  As I touched on in my post, “Assimilation, Death of the ‘Modern’ Jew,” without obligation to keep the torah, Jews just don’t.  Perhaps the obligation by the “torah” of peer pressure and advertising is just plain a better motivator than making somebody smile.  How sad is that!?

How about getting rid of the idea of Santa all together, and instead just place random gifts around the house, with no idea who gave them?  Actually, it just dawned on me that perhaps the reason that Santa is a better fit is the same reason that for most, christianity is a better fit than Judaism.  In christianity, there is a form given to G-d.  With the Santa tradition, there is form given to the spirit of giving.  Without this form, even if it is indistinct and changes in the mind of each person conceiving it, perhaps it is just too much to grasp and so automatically makes minds and emotions reject the very concept.

Well, there is a little food for thought at least.  Whether you are celebrating christmas with or without santa, I hope you have a merry christmas.  If you are celebrating a different holiday, I hope that it is very special for you.  If you, like me, will be eating chinese food and going to see a movie–as is the custom of my people on the winter solstice–then may your egg rolls be vegetarian, your Kung Pao be spicy, and may you be able to make it to a matinee–or don’t forget to ask for your student discount–because hey, “yo mama pays retail!”

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It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Shatnez….

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For the first time in over a hundred years (or 87k years, spending upon the article you read), hanukkah coincided with Thanksgiving this year, creating the much anticipated Jewish-American spectacle of Thanksgivukkah.  I prefer to say Chanksgiving, but most non-jews (who I will call goyim, with no air of derision, but rather out of expediency) have a difficult time with the guttural sounds.  Well, to keep it real, many Jews have a hard time with them as well.

Having Thanksgiving during the eight days of Hanukkah was wonderful!  It was such a refreshing switch to the usual coincidence of Hanukkah and xmas.  Our house is a kind of interfaith household.  To be super realistic about it, we are a single faith family, as the only religion is Judaism.  My wife is not Jewish, however, and although she is respectful, and helpful to an extent, of the Jewish practices–helping with Shabbat meals, doing holiday stuff at home, helping to keep kosher in the house with the exception of separate dishes and cookware–she really has no interest of her own.  This time of the year, therefore, is all about the secular items of xmas: tree, lights, music, movies, presents; basically anything that has nothing at all to do with any kind of deity.  On its face, this is what secular xmas is all about, but lurking behind the scenes however, are all kinds of references to fertility gods, demigods, and father-gods, stretching all the way back to mesopotamia!  This is an extremely difficult thing for a Jew, who is trying to live torah to the best of his ability, to do while still being kind and true to those whom he loves and who love him.

So this year, Hanukkah didn’t have to compete with its usual rival–and lets face it, Thanksgiving is nowhere close to being competitive.  We went to the house of some friends for Thanksgiving, and they came to our house the next night for…wait for it…Thanksgivukkabat!  Thats right, that rare Jewish-American Holiday that rounds three holidays into one!  We deep fried a turkey using the recipe from “the shiksa” (link at the end of post), and had some Traditional Shabbat and Thanksgiving trimmings to go along with it.  It was wonderful!!!

So, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with shatnez?”  Or first, “What the heck IS shatnez?”  The second one I’ll answer first, without spending too much time on it: Shatnez is the mixture of wool and linen that the Torah commands us not to wear unless we are priests serving in the Holy Temple.  Orthodox jews, therefore, are very stringent about mixed fiber clothing, and even have inspectors who will examine your clothing under a microscope for you to make sure that it is kosher.  The only thing that this blog post actually has to do with shatnez though, is that there was a part of a video that I watched recently, where an orthodox woman is in Walmart singing, “Its beginning to look a lot like shatnez,” and then complaining about having all the goyishe tunes stuck in her head.  Immediately following thanksgiving, my wife began playing xmas music and movies.  This wouldn’t be such a big deal, if not for the longevity of the binges.  It seems, sometimes, that there can be no respite from xmas–even in one’s own home!

As you read in my “about” page (you read that first, right?), I didn’t grow up Jewish.  I used to enjoy xmas music and movies very much…in moderation.  Years ago, we lived in New Hampshire, and the oldies station there–the one station I could stand listening to–would play xmas music, 24 hours a day, from thanksgiving to new years!  Some days, I hoped for temporary deafness to set in, G-d forbid.  I can handle the occasional song or movie, but not hours on end.  After that, I end up being like the woman in the youtube video, with, “all these goyishe songs stuck in my head all day long.”  And just to be clear, there are very few songs or types of music that I am ok losing so much mental control to!

Will we all make it through?  Will there be any nervous breakdowns?!  Stay tuned for the finale–over the next 15-20 days that is–to find out!  And until then, just remember…

Most of these “goyishe” songs were written by Jews!  “Oy vey!”

 

source links:

http://theshiksa.com/2013/10/24/deep-fried-sriracha-turkey/

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