Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Hanukkah vs. Christmas

Yesterday I discussed how I think Hanukkah has been stolen by American society as a beacon of political correctness. By recognizing December as a multi-denominational holiday season, and replacing "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays," we have taken a very minor holiday and elevated it to major holiday status for the sake of inclusion and political correctness.  But why did the Jews go along with that?

And for that, I want to delve into a view of Christmas, from the outside:
1. That annoying thing we don't have to worry about
Christmas is a small inconvenience (the traffic at- and adjacent to- the malls; a bunch of stuff closed on Christmas day forcing us to stereotypically eat at Asian restaurants which are perpetually open). Having no emotional attachment to Christmas, I see the trees as messy, the shopping as overwhelming, and the decorations as a waste of closet space for 10 months out of the year. If this offends you, it's not because it's not true, but because your rosy memories of Christmas outweigh your practicality on this matter. Plenty of things are worth the hassle if you have an emotional attachment to them (see also: babies). But I'm, quite frankly, glad I get to sit this one out. (I said in my last post that I liked Christmastime, and I do... although I could do with less traffic. But I like it as a bystander- albeit one who listens to Christmas music in the car sometimes- or as one helping others celebrate their holiday, never as a participant.)
2. Twinkle lights as a gateway drug
Jews know that Christmas is a major Christian holiday celebrating Jesus's birth. But amazingly, people will try to tell us that a Christmas tree is just a tree (true), that twinkle lights are not owned by any particular religious denomination (true), or any number of other things that essentially amount to "it's not a religious holiday if you don't want it to be." (false) Now I know this is not, at it's heart, sinister... but sometimes it feels that way. Because these are all symbols of a religious holiday for not-our-religion. Of course, the majority of people suggesting we celebrate Christmas in a secular way are non-practicing Christians for whom Christmas is a largely secular holiday. They love the trees and the cookies and the days off for non-religious reasons and as a way to connect to their childhood and families. And because these non-religious people don't celebrate Christmas as a Christian holiday, they think we can too. But Jews can't do that. We can't take on the cultural traditions of our neighbors without also ceding our own cultural and religious identity. We can't celebrate "just" the secular parts of your religious holiday, even if you can. [In this way, I am firmly on the "Keep the Christ in Christmas" team. I'm not any more interested in a mainstream, secular Christmas than you are. It's a religious holiday and it should stay that way.]
3. The Thing separating Us from Everyone Else
The Jew as the "other" is more apparent during the month of December than any other time of year. Christmas is a big, pervasive holiday in the US. It's all over the stores and the TV and the Santa photos at the mall. It takes over radio stations, which started playing nothing but Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving and won't stop until the day after New Years. It's gotten so big, Black Friday became Black Thursday this year (you might know it better as Thanksgiving, but not for long. As Jon Stewart said, "Christmas has gotten so big, it's eating other holidays."). Christmas is EVERYWHERE in the U.S. Except in Jewish homes. Despite the secular clothes Christmas is wearing these days, we know it's a religious holiday, and one that isn't for us. (Given that the divinity of Jesus is pretty much THE difference between Christians and Jews, it would be a little weird if we suddenly decided to start celebrating "secular" Birth-of-Jesus-day... don't you think?)

So you have everyone and then you have the Jews, who are surrounded by Christmas, but completely unwilling to bring it into their homes. Well, that's adult Jews. For small children, it's difficult to see people having fun you're not invited to. (This is true whether it's your parents having a cocktail party after they put you to bed, or the entire country having a month-long red and green celebration in your face.) Unable to grasp the deeper importance of not assimilating into American and Christian society, all kids can see is that everyone else is getting more presents and having more fun than they are. The easy solution, of course, is to wave over there to this even bigger, better holiday where you get eight whole nights of presents compared to their measly one night. When the opportunity arose to have a totally Jewish holiday that could compete with Christmas, mainstream American Jews ran with it. They did it for the sake of their children, for the sake of cultural and religious continuity for the next generation. American Jews knew they couldn't have Christmas, that they had to stand apart, but this way they could stand just as tall and just as shiny.

Interfaith Family, a Jewish resource for intermarried couples, discusses a December Dilemma, caused by the competition between Christmas and Hanukkah (a large part of this is also the fact that, as mentioned, even non-religious Christians and those Christians committed to raising Jewish children are very attached to the "secular" symbols of Christmas). If you are a mainstream Jewish family in America, you can do the hand-waving at Hanukkah, this bigger better holiday. But if you are an interfaith family, your kids will see Christmas up close and personal- if not at their own house then at Grandma's. And on closer inspection, Christmas is always going to "win" against even the most outrageous of Hanukkah celebrations.

If it were a competition, Hanukkah (and maybe Judaism altogether) wouldn't stand a chance.  But religion is not about competing with each other for who has the bigger holidays. It's not even about competing over who has the more meaningful traditions. (This is, in itself, a decidedly Jewish approach. Jews, who do not believe in proselytizing, who in fact discourage conversion, do not need to prove their rightness or superiority to those on the outside. Of course, if the majority of mainstream American Jews remembered this, then "American" Hanukkah as a competitor for Christmas would never have been allowed to exist in the first place.)
Yesterday I told my fiance that I was abolishing Hanukkah presents for our kids, part of my plot to take Hanukkah back. He, who is committed to raising Jewish kids with me, worried that they would think Christmas was cooler, undermining their Jewishness. You know what? Christmas is cooler than Hanukkah*. There, I said it. Battle over. I'm not going to fight this war. I'm going to find another way to get my kids excited about Judaism. Despite the distinct lack of twinkle lights and gingerbread houses, Judaism has some pretty neat things going for it.

*Passover is the best holiday anyways. Forget the December Dilemma, the Springtime Struggle is on.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Taking back Hanukkah

Whew, such a busy couple weeks. I now have 400 unread posts of yours in my Reader, and haven't posted much lately. I have also been trying to figure out what I want to say about Hanukkah. It's over now, but I figure better late than never. Last year, I had this to say about Hanukkah as a "major" holiday:
Hannukah is one of several non biblical holidays which celebrate more recent (relatively) events in Jewish history. Since they are mandated by rabbis, not God himself, and don't have a prohibition on work, these are generally not considered major holidays. Hannukah is widely practiced, not sure whether this is because its close to Christmas or because its fun and easy. 
First, some background: I don't speak for all Jews on this, but I love Christmastime. I like winter (well, what passes for winter in Houston- aka, the lack of sweat), I like hot cocoa. I like Christmas songs on the radio. I like cookies and the abundance of peppermint. And I like the "Christmas spirit" where people donate to charity and say "Merry Christmas" when you check out at the grocery and whatever. I like it. I'm not the least big offended by being told "Merry Christmas." I have no problem with people loudly and proudly celebrating their major holiday.

But what I am increasingly bothered by is that people seem to substitute having heard of Hanukkah for knowing anything about Jews. People think that saying "Happy Holidays" is conflated with having cultural sensitivity, taking all the legwork out of actually learning about the "other" in their midst.The real Hanukkah is nothing huge. You eat some fried foods, you light some candles, and then you move on with your day. (Notice there's no presents in there, although perhaps there is some money gifted to children.) If it wasn't so close to Christmas, no non-Jews would know about it.

Compare to all of the major Jewish holidays: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, Sukkot, Shavuot. How many people actually know what or when those are, and what we're supposed to do for them? And then some other minor holidays: Purim, Simchat Torah, Lag B'omer... Anyone? Nope.
So why Hanukkah? Here's my postulate: American "Hanukkah" was, in fact, invented not by Jews but by people who celebrate Christmas.

The pervasiveness of Christmas in American culture has had the effect of highlighting those who do not celebrate Christmas. And while many who are not religious get all caught up in the Christmas spirit as a secular celebration of family and togetherness and pine trees(?), the Jews have always stood apart. The one dark house on the block not lit up with twinkle lights, prancing reindeer and Santa Claus in a blow up snow globe. The one with the tiny, "sad" electric menorah in the front window- eight nights, nine lights, then it disappears until next year. The person who you shouldn't say "Merry Christmas" to, because they might get offended.

So what do we do? We invent the War on Christmas. Those giant present decorations in front of the mall? Those aren't Christmas presents, they're Holiday presents, for Hanukkah too! Those decorations, they're not Christmas decorations, some are blue and white, so they're clearly Holiday decorations. And we won't say Merry Christmas anymore, but Happy Holidays. That way everyone is included! And those who would accidentally say something so offensive as "Merry Christmas" to a Jewish person, can now go about their day smug in their knowledge that they were inclusive, and sensitive to the Jews who have a holiday to celebrate too.

Only it's a tiny holiday. That has nothing to do with giving presents. And it's not a big decorating holiday, despite how every store tries to encourage the Hanukkah bush or strings of little "Star of David" lights so even Jews can participate in the fun of holiday decorating. Hanukkah has been stolen from us, to make everyone else feel more politically correct. Much like American Christmas has only a passing resemblance to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, this American spectacle of Hanukkah is a completely different beast from that actual holiday with which it shares it's name.

So I've decided to start a movement. I'm taking back Hanukkah. I won't let it be the figurehead for inclusiveness anymore, just because it conveniently falls next to a holiday you were going to deck the malls for anyways. If you want to be culturally sensitive, keep your "Merry Christmas" in December... but in the middle of September next year, tell a Jew you know "Happy Holidays" (or better yet, Happy New Year) We'll be right in the midst of our big, busy holiday season (Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, which all fall within a month) and we will be happy to hear it!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Night at the Museum

Last night Dan and I went to the Houston Museum of Natural Science for an "End of the World' party. The museum opened at 8 (until I think 1, but we left at 11:30 because we're old) and had DJs in 3 different rooms, all of the permanent exhibits were open, along with the special Maya exhibit.

I saw the deal on Living Social for 2 tickets for $20 (tickets were regularly $20 each, score!) and figured, admission to the museum alone is $10, so this was a good deal.
They had a cash bar and food trucks on-site, so we grabbed some beers and started wandering through the museum.

They also included admission to a showing of the Mayan Prophecy movie they had playing in the planetarium. The movie was kinda lame, and having to look up at it played over my head made me a bit dizzy.
As we wandered through the museum, we happened upon the best thing ever: a dance party in the dinosaur exhibit:

Yes that is a DJ next to a T-Rex!

This was a pretty cool event and I hope they do more of them in the future. I am coming down with a cold so I was ready to call it a night by 11:30. (At midnight I turn into a pumpkin anyways...) A perfect night out for a couple of nerds!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wedding Update: November

Another month closer to our wedding! I know I'm terribly late getting this out, but the night shift and the holidays have me running a bit behind.

Here's what we did in November (and part of December):

Wedding invites sent.

And we've started getting responses back. Nearly all "Yes" so far, but I guess that's normal?

Dress fitting number one, done.
I totally love my dress, by the way. I tried on a zip-up but ordered a lace-up without seeing how it would look. It's GORGEOUS! Also, since I bought the dress back home and only have time for the first fitting (which I did at Thanksgiving) and the second fitting (which I'm doing when we go back for my friend's wedding in January), its nice to know I don't need the top to be altered. Just some shortening and we're good! If it's needs more work after the fitting in January, my parents will be bringing it with them 2 weeks later when they come out to Texas for the wedding and I won't have a third chance to try it on. If it had to be altered for size, I would worry a lot more about taking it sight unseen.

Veil acquired.                                                                                              Cake topper procured.

Ties for the boys are in:
Green for the groomsmen, purple for the groom. 

Today I had my hair trial. Here's a sneak peek:

                                This was our inspiration, from pinterest:

What's left?
  • Favors, table numbers, programs and place cards, welcome bags (since these depend on how many people are coming, I'm saving them for later to avoid over-buying)
  • Some clothing odds and ends- I need stockings, Dan needs a shirt, etc.
  • Still working on ceremony and music selections.

Other ideas I'm working on:
I've seen many variations of this sign, and I love it. Just working on how to word and display it...

And... that's all I'm gonna let slip for now. Gotta have some surprises. :-)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Around the Web

Here's some interesting things I read while trying to stay up all night:

From Captain Awkward, the rules for talking to others about their food choices:
I think the world would be a better place if we stuck to one acceptable way of commenting on what is on a fellow adult’s plate. That way is “That looks delicious” + some variation of “Where did you get it/how did you make it/does it taste as good as it looks/smells/Is it like this other thing that is also delicious?

Stop commenting on how much or how little someone eats. “Is that all you’re eating?” “Are you really going to eat all of that?” “Looks like SOMEONE was HUNGRY.” If you feel any of those sentences about to leave your mouth, clap your hand over that mouth.
Stop commenting on what is on someone else’s plate.Are you sure it’s okay to eat that?” “Should you really be eating that?” Do not wrinkle your nose, call other people’s food gross, or explain in detail why you wish you could eat what they are eating but can’t since you gave up _________. Don’t bring up your health issues or their health issues. Don’t bring up that thing you read online somewhere about the health benefits of x, y, and z. Don’t bring up that diet your Aunt Susie tried that worked so well for her. When someone is eating delicious meat, it’s not a good time to talk about factory farms. When someone is eating delicious daal, it’s not the time to sermonize about how you could never be a vegetarian and lovingly describe your favorite roast baby sheep dish from childhood.
Stop assigning food a moral value. Don’t go on and on about how you probably shouldn’t eat whatever it is. Don’t try to justify a big meal or dessert by claiming that you only ate a few leaves of parsley earlier and try to suck everyone into your shame spiral – no one cares. Pie isn’t “sinful;” pie is fucking delicious.
I think we probably all know at least one person who breaks these rules. Don't BE that person. I think these rules can be applied even more generally to anything an adult might say about another adult's choices. This includes clothes, hobbies, sex life: stop applying your own value judgements to other people's actions.
From Pandamonium, a dystopian future where abortion is illegal, called ILU-486 (via Love Joy Feminism):
She was worried because she’d taken three large white pills a day ago, and while she was clotting and cramping and the like, if she didn’t get taken care of soon, she was going to have to explain the miscarriage to the police. They would find out. She didn’t know how they did, but she was already on warning. Sally swore they had detectors in the sewer pipes, but that sounded ridiculous.
The instructions said to wait. Don’t pack a bag. Don’t tell anyone. Don’t plan for childcare. Nothing bad will happen. Just wait. Pretend nothing is amiss. We come to you.
There was more, of course. She understood that she had taken mifepristone, and that if she hadn’t yet miscarried, then she’d need the second drug. More importantly, she needed to get rid of the evidence. Terminating a fetus in any way was a crime, even if it was an accident. According to the cop she saw last time, there were no accidents, only what he called “accidents”, with finger quotes.
Perhaps not as fictional as it should be. Considering buying the bumper sticker.

And finally, some fun: From Huffington Post Weddings, on brides and social media. Some interesting factoids:
  • 79% keep up on wedding planning blogs. I certainly do!
  • Updating Engagement status [on Facebook]: 1 in 3 do it within hours. 1 in 4 do it within days. We made our engagement Facebook official within a couple hours, before we went to bed. But the mobile app doesn't let you do it (or we couldn't figure it out), so our marriage might take a couple days to be Facebook official.
  • 62% like that their guests post photos from the wedding.
    There is a growing movement of these so-called unplugged weddings where you ask guests not to take pictures. Whatever! I personally love seeing pics posted with my facebook friends tagged in their weddings, which you get months before the professional photos and want the same for my own wedding. I plan to set-up a Flickr pool for our guests and encourage facebook posting. I also really like this idea, to leave your camera out for guests to use so that you can see pics of your wedding at the end of the night.
    On the other hand, the last shuttle launch I went to (back in my senior year of college, when I lived down the road from KSC), I encouraged the others around me to watch with their eyes rather than try to take pictures. The professional pics will always be better and you might miss it. But that's a 30 second ascent (if you're lucky on a clear night) not a 20 minute ceremony. I'm sure they won't "miss it" if they take a couple pics.
What do you think? Did you have (or will you consider having) an unplugged wedding?
And finally, check out these cool high-res images of Earth from space taken by a NASA/NOAA satellite. Here's just one of the many: