Archive for the ‘Holidays’ Category

NewYear’s Day

January 1, 2014

We didn’t do anything to celebrate the New Year. We didn’t watch the ball drop last night because we needed our sleep. I had to work. So, it was just another day today.

I have often felt that our calendar begins the New Year at a very bad time. New Year’s Day is only a week after Christmas so there is something of an anti-climax. The year begins in the dead of winter when days are still short and it is often cloudy, so the year begins at the most depressing time of the year. I think it would be better if the new year began at the end of one season and the beginning of another, preferably at the first day of spring, March 21. Beginning the year in the middle of a month might be awkward, so I would settle for either March 1 or April 1.

We start the new year on January 1, because our calendar, the Gregorian Calendar is ultimately based on the calendar used by the ancient Romans. Under the old Roman calendar, the new year began when the two consuls began their terms. This was on May 1 before 222 BC, March 15 from 222 BC until 153 BC, and then January 1. When Julius Caesar reformed the calendar, he kept January 1 as the first day of the year and we have been stuck with it ever since. Actually, during the Middle Ages, some countries in Europe did begin the year in spring.For example, England began the year on March 25. When the Gregorian Calendar was introduced and adopted throughout Europe, this regional diversity came to an end and everyone acknowledged January 1 as New Year’s Day, unfortunately.

Maybe I could start some sort of campaign to change the date of New Year’s. I could put up petitions on the Internet, lobby Congress, request the change from President Obama, even appeal to Pope Francis. Nah. It’s cold outside and dark and we’re expecting snow and it all seems like an awful amount of work. Maybe I’ll wait until spring.

I hope everyone has a wonderful 2014.

The Nativity According to Matthew

December 24, 2013
The Adoration of the Magi (circa 1305) by Giot...

The Adoration of the Magi

Matthew begins his Gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. I’ll skip the genealogy and go straight to his account of Jesus’s birth.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”

19 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt 20 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child’s life are dead.” (Matthew 1:18-2:20)

Most people think that the slaughter of the baby boys in Bethlehem involved the murder of hundreds or thousands of innocents. Remember, though, that Bethlehem was a small village in this time with a likely population of a few hundred. It is doubtful that more than half a dozen children were killed, not enough to make it into any other sources we have for Herod’s rule. Herod was certainly ruthless enough to order such a massacre. He had no trouble killing members of his own family if he thought they threatened his rule. In fact, Herod being an Idumean (or Edomite) and not a Jew, was a foreigner and so was as despised by many Judeans as a Roman governor would have been. If he had heard that there was a potential rival to his throne, even a child, that the Jews might rally around, he would have wasted no time in disposing of that rival.

The word Magi usually refers to Zoroastrian priests. In Greco-Roman usage the term Magi had connotations of magicians or sorcerers, exotic figures from distant lands. It is not clear just who the Magi actually were. They may indeed have been Zoroastrians. The references to the Star of Bethlehem suggest that they may have been astrologers. The Babylonians had a reputation for being skilled in astrology and magic so the Magi may have come from Mesopotamia. They may also have been Jewish since they were seeking for a king of the Jews. The fact that they were unfamiliar with the prophets may prove that they were Gentiles. The number of the Magi is not given in the Gospel. The reason that three are usually pictured  is that there were three gifts; gold, frankincense,and myrrh.

It is also not clear just what the Star of Bethlehem actually was. There have been several theories presented, but none of them are entirely satisfactory. The star might have been a supernova, perhaps in a nearby galaxy. There is no way to know for certain since any supernova remnant so far away would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to detect. It might also have been a comet. This is rather unlikely. Although a comet would behave much as the star is said to behave, hanging in the sky over a certain location for several nights, comets were universally perceived as being harbingers of disaster in ancient, and not so ancient, times. The most likely explanation is a conjunction of the planets Jupiter and Saturn. The astronomer Keppler discovered that there was indeed such a conjunction in the year 7 BC. The following year there was another conjunction of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. This might have been very impressive to the Magi. It may also be that the Star was a supernatural phenomenon and one that cannot be studied today. Whatever the truth of the matter is, I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas.

The Nativity According to Luke

December 24, 2013

Here is what Christmas is all about

Linus quotes from the Gospel according to Luke. There are two accounts of Jesus’s birth in the New Testament, the account that Luke gives and the account that Matthew gives. Mark ignores the question of Jesus’s birth entirely, preferring to begin with Jesus’s public ministry while John actually begins his account before the nativity and moves from there to Jesus’ career. Here is Luke’s account.

In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.(Luke 2:1-21)

There is a considerable amount of skepticism about the census, both on the dating and the procedure. Most skeptics regard it as extremely improbable that the Romans would make people travel here and there to register in their home towns. As a matter of fact that is just how the Romans conducted their censuses.

Every five years, each male Roman citizen had to register in Rome for the census. In this he had to declare his family, wife, children, slaves and riches. Should he fail to do this, his possessions would be confiscated and he would be sold into slavery.
But registration meant freedom. A master wishing to free his slave needed only to enter him in the censor’s list as a citizen (manumissio censu).
Throughout the entire republican era, registration in the census was the only way that a Roman could ensure that his identity and status as a citizen were recognized. Fathers registered their sons, employers their freedmen.
Primarily the census served to count the number of citizens and to assess the potential military strength and future tax revenue. Most important, the census transformed the city into a political and military community.
But the census performed a highly symbolical function. To the Romans the census made them more than a mere crowd, or barbarian rabble. It made them a populus, a people, capable of collective action.
To the Roman the census was one of the foundation stones of their civilization.

As the Roman Empire expanded and citizenship was given out to other cities in Italy and around the Mediterranean, I would imagine that every Roman citizen had to go to his native city to register. Presumably there were lists of citizens kept in major cities and in Rome. Paul claimed to be a Roman citizen at various times in Acts and you might wonder how he was able to prove it. Well, every Roman citizen had a sort of ID or diploma which would have been issued in his city.

But with the steady extension of the citizenship by individual grants to provincials isolated in peregrine communes, and with the informal settlement of large numbers of Italian immigrants in the provincial territories, a more effective means of registration became necessary. Formal documentation of the grant of citizenship to provincial soldiery appears first in 89 B.C., in the shape of a bronze tablet recording the decree of a proconsul enfranchising a unit of Spanish cavalrymen in the Social War, who are all named in a general list. Presumably each soldier received a copy. The cities of persons of higher status enfranchised by Octavian in c. 40 B.C. received a copy of a decree detailing all the privileges of their new status, while his auxiliary veterans could acquire copies of the enabling edict that enfranchised them. But it is only with the regularization of the grant of citizenship to the all time-expired auxiliaries by Claudius that a standardized document appears. This is the small bronze diptych known as the diploma civitatis, containing a brief and uniform formula conferring the Roman citizenship on the holder and his descendants, who is indicated by his name and military unit. These documents were not normally used for civilians, who received instead a copy in libellus form of the brief imperial warrant authorizing the registration of their enfranchisement in the archives at Rome.

Diplomata and libelli provided for new citizens. For the mass of the citizenry, for whom censorial registration at five-yearly intervals was an inefficient instrument, adequate provision was finally made by the creation of an official system of compulsory birth registration under the social legislation of Augustus (A.D. 4)… The Roman citizen was required to register the birth of his children within thirty days before a Roman official, and he received a wooden diptych recording the declaration, which acted as a certificate of citizenship for the child for the rest of his life. Like the military diplomata this contained the names of seven witnesses, and provided a presumptive proof of citizen status… Similarly the enfranchisement of freedmen, which depended upon a formal act, was recorded in a documentary tabella manumissionis. Citizens of diverse origins thus came to have some form of documentary evidence of their status.

Presumably Paul registered at Tarsus while he lived there. To get back to the census; obviously Joseph wasn’t a Roman citizen and Judea was under the rule of Herod, not the Romans. The census could have been a small time affair, the mention of Caesar Augustus being either an exaggeration or a long-standing policy of Augustus to encourage the provinces to conduct censuses, but conducted according to Roman norms, with every resident registering in his home town. You must not imagine, however, large crowds of people traveling to and fro. Remember that in this time most people would have lived their whole lives in the same village. Joseph’s journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have been very much an exception. The only thing really odd about this account was his taking Mary with him. There would have been no need for her to travel. As a woman, her residency would not have mattered much.

 

Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

December 23, 2013

Well, there was, at any rate. He was not a “jolly old elf”, he did not live at the North Pole, and he never made any toys or drove a sleigh with eight reindeer. He didn’t look like this.

He actually looked more like this.

Of course, I am talking about Saint Nicholas of Myra, the historical person on which the legends of Santa Claus are based.

Santa Claus is derived from the Dutch “Sinter Klaus”, and it was Dutch immigrants who brought over many of our ideas of Santa, including the idea of a man who gives out presents to well behaved children. Another influence was Father Christmas from Britain. And, of course there was the poem “The Night Before Christmas” which introduced the whole idea of the reindeer, going down chimneys, etc.The cartoonist Thomas Nast is believed to be responsible for the first portrayal of Santa in his red suit, and also the idea that he lives at the North Pole.

But the real Saint Nicholas was a bishop of the city of Myra in Asia Minor, or present day turkey. He lived from around 270-343. He was a Greek Christian whose parents died of an epidemic when he was very young. From his childhood he was religious. His uncle, also a bishop, raised him and when he was old enough made him a monk. Eventually he was made a bishop by the Christian community of Myra. There he stayed until his death in 343.

Nicholas apparently was quite a zealous bishop. He was imprisoned during the last great persecution of the Emperor Diocletian, but was released when Constantine became Emperor. He debated against and fought the pagans and the Arians, a heretic branch of Christianity, and participated in the great Council of Nicaea, where he lost control of his temper and actually slapped Arius. He was imprisoned for this but released after three days.

He was most famous for his acts of charity, many of which are probably legendary.The most famous story is that passing by a house he heard three daughters lament because their father could not afford a dowry for any of them. Without a dowry they could not get married and would probably have to resort to prostitution to survive. (Somehow this story never made into the children’s specials.) He threw a bag of gold into their window as each girl became old enough to marry. In one variation of the story, by the time of the third daughter, the father lay in wait to discover the identity of his benefactor. When Nicholas saw this, he threw the bag into their chimney.

After his death, Nicholas was buried in Myra, but in 1087, with Asia Minor being overrun by the Turks, some Italian sailors stole the remains and brought them to Bari, where they remain to this day.

Nicholas is a Saint in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches His feast day is December 6, today, and he is the patron saint of children, sailors, repentant thieves, pawn brokers, and others.

So, now you know the true story of Santa Claus.

If you want to know more about Catholic saints see here.

 

Happy Holidays

December 8, 2013

I am coming to loath the greeting Happy Holidays. By itself, happy holidays is an innocuous phrase with nothing even remotely offensive about it, yet, in recent years, it has come to represent a certain way of thinking that I do not really appreciate. Let me explain by first showing a recent email I have received.

Friend –

The official organization charged with electing Republicans to the House — the national Republican Party! — thinks that telling people “Happy Holidays” is something that only liberals do.

They’re even selling coffee mugs and t-shirts with that claim and using the proceeds to elect more Republicans.

It isn’t just divisive. It’s offensive.

As Democrats (and Americans) we want everyone to enjoy whatever holiday it is that they’re celebrating this time of year. And that goes for our Republican friends, too.

So in the spirit of the season, we thought we’d make it easy for everyone to share a holiday greeting with the GOP!
http://my.democrats.org/Happy-Holidays-GOP

At the very least, it’ll be a nice reminder that even though we come from different places with different sets of traditions, Americans everywhere love a good holiday card.
Seasons greetings!

Mo

Mo Elleithee
Communications Director
Democratic National Committee

The list of holidays that the Democrats celebrate can be found at the link. They are Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, and New Year. First, Festivus is a made up holiday. It was introduced as a joke in the sitcom Seinfeld. I have no objection to anyone deciding to celebrate Festivus, but please don’t insult us by comparing to the real holidays that are celebrated this time of year.

Kwanzaa is another made up holiday. Kwanzaa was created in 1966 by a Black Nationalist named Maulana Karenga as a holiday to replace Christmas and celebrate Black American’s African heritage. Kwanzaa actually has very little to do with any authentic African tradition or celebration. Even the name, and the names of the seven virtues it celebrates are from the wrong part of Africa. They are words in Swahili, which is spoken on the east coast of Africa. Most African Americans have ancestors from the west coast, a continent away. Still, I will take Kwanzaa at face value as a celebration of African culture.

Chanukah is, of course, a commemoration of a Jewish struggle for religious freedom against a ruler who insisted on being worshiped as a god. I can imagine why our contemporary progressives who believe the state should be worshiped as a god might not like that story.

Not much needs to be said about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is the anniversary of one of the most important events in human history. Only Good Friday and Easter are more important. Christmas is the day when the Creator of the universe took on humanity for our redemption.

New Years is, well the beginning of the year.

Each of these holidays has a distinct meaning that is worth celebrating. My complaint about happy holidays is that it blends all of these distinct traditions into a sort of generic “holidays” that really doesn’t mean much at all. I would prefer the various holidays to remain distinct and meaningful.

The other reason that I dislike happy holidays is that somehow, Christmas is the only holiday that anyone finds offensive. There seems to be a real effort to make the public celebration of Christmas somehow unseemly, except in its most secular manifestations. This seems to be part of an effort to make public displays of Christianity somehow shameful. The idea is to fundamentally transform the United States from a Christian nation into something very different. Yes, we are, or were a Christian nation. We have never had an established church, nor should we, but our culture and institutions has, until very recently, been influenced by the Christian tradition. This would be a very different country if the people who had settled North America had been Muslims or Buddhists. This will be a very different country, and not a better one, if the radical secularists have their way.

So, there you have it. To me, happy holidays has come to represent trends that I do not approve of and would stop if I could. I love Christmas and would have it keep its meaning. I support the cause that Chanukah represents. I am even starting to admire African culture as I learn something of the history of Africa. I don’t want these traditions forgotten or trivialized.

 

 

Christmas Carols

December 7, 2013
English: The last verse of The Twelve Days of ...

English: The last verse of The Twelve Days of Christmas. The Song was published in 1780, so it is public domain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I spend most of my time working as a merchandiser for a soft drink
company in grocery stores and WalMart, around this time of year, I am
exposed to a lot of Christmas music. Most of the time, it is just in the
background as I work, but for the last couple of days I have been
listening more closely and this has cause me to wonder a little about
some of these Christmas Carols. Don’t get me wrong. I like the songs. I
am just wondering.

Consider Santa Claus is Coming to Town.

He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!

Santa Claus works for the NSA? I always did have my suspicions about that jolly old elf. How did he afford all those toys, not to mention upkeep for the reindeer, etc. He must have been selling information to the government for years.
What does Silver Bells have to do with Christmas? Is it a custom somewhere to ring bells on Christmas? Maybe it is a reference to the bells on Santa’s sleigh, or the bell ringers for the Salvation Army. According to Wikipedia, the composer originally intended the song to be Tinkle Bells, until his wife reminded him that tinkle could mean urination.
Deck the Halls has been ruined by changes in slang. I imagine that “Don we now our gay apparel” must have once meant the festive clothing one might wear to a Christmas party. Now it evokes an image of attending the party in drag.
The Twelve Days of Christmas refer to the twelve days between Christmas and the Feast of Epiphany on January 6. I have to wonder who in the world would give their true love 12 partridges in pear trees, 22 turtle doves, 30 french hens, 36 colly birds, 40 gold rings, 42 geese a laying, 42 swans a swimming, 40 maids a milking, 36 ladies dancing, 30 lords a leaping, 22 pipers piping, and 12 drummers drumming, and where the true love could keep them all.
Why would you want to Let It Snow? There are more people traveling around Christmas time than at any other time of the year. You would have to be some sort of sociopath who wants to ruin Christmas to want the delays and accidents that snow brings. The same could be said of White Christmas.
I happen to know the Latin lyrics to O Come All Ye Faithful.
Adeste Fideles laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethelhem
Natum videte
Regnum angelorum
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Venite adoremus
Dominum
I find Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer to be slightly disturbing. All of the other reindeer laugh, call him names, and refuse to let him play any reindeer games, until his deformity is found to be useful. Then, they all love him. It seems the lesson here is that it is acceptable to bully those who happen to be different, unless they are useful.
My favorite carol is Silent Night. I love the melody and the lyrics. For some reason, that particular song evokes Christmas in me more than any other. I used to know the German lyrics but I have forgotten them. I also like We Three Kings Orient Are, O Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Joy to the World and Angels We Have Heard On High. I don’t like some of the newer songs as much. I mean songs like Jingle Bell Rock, Feliz Navidad, and a few others. I like Have a Holly, Jolly Christmas and Frosty the Snowman, but they seem to play songs like that too much and they tend to get on my nerves.
Christmas is my favorite time of the year in good part because of the cheerful music. It is always something of a letdown after Christmas. The gloom of the winter seems all the greater compared the the cheer before and I would have to say that January is my least favorite month.
Well, I hope everyone has a holly, jolly Christmas.

Your Republican Uncle

November 27, 2013

Matt Compton at the Democratic National Committee has a terrific idea on how to spend your Thanksgiving holiday after you finish the turkey; argue with your relatives about how wonderful a job President Obama is doing.

Friend –

This time of year, the only thing more annoying than holiday traffic is an awkward conversation with family about politics.

Don’t get me wrong — I love the Republicans in my life. But nothing ruins a slice of pecan pie faster than talking through immigration reform with a cousin who spends too much time listening to Rush Limbaugh.

That’s why we’re launching YourRepublicanUncle.com. And if you want to make sure that the political debates around your dinner table this Thanksgiving stay tethered to reality, you should check it out.

We can’t do anything about highway congestion, but we can make sure you have the information you need to answer a bonkers question about President Obama’s record on jobs or the perfect fact to respond to a ridiculous argument about the Affordable Care Act.

And to make sure you get that information whenever you need it, we designed YourRepublicanUncle.com so that it looks great and loads quickly on your phone — no getting ambushed when you go back for seconds on stuffing.

This holiday season, don’t stress about the political debates. We’ve got your back:

www.YourRepublicanUncle.com

Happy Thanksgiving!

Matt

Matt Compton
Digital Director
Democratic National Committee

If you handle it right, you won’t have to worry about spending time at get togethers with your non-progressive relatives ever again. Once you have that reputation as the obnoxious cousin who starts fights over politics, they’ll start to “forget” to invite you. Of course you could avoid talking about politics or any other controversial subject, but no holiday is really complete without a shouting match and permanent family breakups. And, on the way home after being kicked out of your uncle’s house, you can revel in that righteous feeling of indignation on the way those racist Neanderthals treated you after you tried to bring some enlightenment into their lives.

The link leads to a website full of liberal talking points. There is not much of interest there. Most of the points are  of the “No he isn’t” variety, as in, “No Obama doesn’t have the worst jobs record of all time.” or, “No Obamacare won’t put many small businesses out of business.” There don’t seem to be any actual untruths there, but they don’t go out of the way to provide the whole truth in context either. The “Republican” positions they are intended to rebut seem to comprise more than a few strawmen. I  doubt if anyone’s Republican uncle is going to be very impressed, at least not if they have some awareness of the issues. They certainly won’t be convinced.

 

The Story of Hanukah

November 27, 2013

Hanukah begins at sunset today, so I thought I would write a little about this holiday. Hanukah is the Jewish Festival of Lights. It is an eight day celebration which lasts from the twenty-fifth day on Kislev to the second day of Tevet. Since the Hebrew calendar is a lunisolar calendar, the days float around from November to December in the Gregorian calendar. This year the days of Hanukah are celebrated November 27 to December 5. It is very rare for Hanukkah to fall this early.

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

Hanukkah was not a major holiday in the Jewish calendar, unlike Passover or the High Holy Days. The festival has increased in importance among North American Jews because of its proximity to Christmas. There is even a tendency among Gentiles to regard Hanukkah as some sort of Jewish Christmas. This is unfortunate, since the backgrounds of the two holidays are quite different. The story of Hanukkah is one of the Jewish people fighting for their freedom to worship God in their own way. I think this story is inspiring and worth learning, both for Jews and Gentiles.

The history goes back to the time of Alexander the Great. He conquered the Persian Empire in one of the most remarkable military campaigns in history. Unfortunately, when he died in 323 BC, he left no provision for any successors and so his generals fought among themselves and eventually Alexander’s empire was divided among them. One of these successors was named Seleucus and he gained control of what is now Iran and Iraq. His kingdom is known to historians as the Seleucid Empire. This time is known as the Hellenistic Era.

Around 200 BC the Seleucids defeated the Egyptians and gained the territories of modern Syria and Israel. During this time the Jewish religion was tolerated and respected by the Ptolemies of Egypt. During this time, also, the Greek language and culture spread far and wide among the conquered peoples. Greek culture had become “cool” and everybody wanted to be a part of it. People who adopted Greek culture could be said to be “Hellenized” from Hellene, the Greek word for Greek. This caused no little consternation among the more traditional Jews. They were afraid that in the rush to embrace Greek culture, many Jews would fall into the worship of the Greek gods and so to idolatry. So, to some extent, the events which followed were as much a civil war as a war between the Jews and the Seleucids.

Antiochus IV

In the year 175, Antiochus IV Epiphanes ascended the throne of the Seleucids. Unlike previous Hellenistic rulers he seemed to believe himself a god and was eager that everyone in his realm pay divine honors to the Greek gods. For most of the people in the Empire this was no great burden as a few more gods didn’t matter all that much. For all but the most Hellenized Jews, this was an impossible demand. There was only one God. When fighting broke out between Hellenized and traditional Jews, Antiochus sided with the Hellenized Jews and in 167 sent an army to capture Jerusalem and compel the worship of the Greek gods. A statue of Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple and the Jewish religion was banned.

This sparked a rebellion and a guerrilla war which was led by a priest named Matthias and his five sons. The most prominent of these was Judas Maccabeus. Antiochus IV had many other problems, especially with the Persians to the east and the rising power of Rome to the west and could never spare the forces necessary to crush the revolt. By 165, the Maccabees were able to retake Jerusalem and cleansed the Temple of the defilement of the pagans.

According to legend, there was only enough oil to light the Menorah for one day, and yet miraculously, they were able to keep it lit for eight days, until more oil could be procured. These eight days became known as the Festival of Lights and to commemorate this victory and miracle, a nine branched menorah is lit. A more prosaic explanation for the origins of this holiday is that the first Hanukkah was a belated celebration of Sukkot. Whatever the truth of the matter might be, I wish everyone a Happy Hanukkah.

 

Thanksgivukkah

November 26, 2013

 

This year is slightly unusual because the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah overlaps Thanksgiving. Hanukkah begins at sunset tomorrow November 27. The two holidays have only overlapped once before since Thanksgiving was proclaimed a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln. This overlap occurred in 1888 and will occur again in the year 79,811. I am not certain that either holiday will be celebrated so far in the future. This rare occurrence has given rise to the name thanksgivukkah for the combined holidays.

 

In a way, it is appropriate that the two holidays come together since both are a celebration of thanks to God, though for very different reasons. Hanukkah celebrates the capture and re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Jewish rebels led by the Maccabees, while Thanksgiving began as a harvest feast by the Pilgrims to thank God for their survival in the New World. Abraham Lincoln made the holiday official in order to proclaim a day, “of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”.

English: Saying grace before carving the turke...

English: Hanukkah menorah, known also as Hanuk...

 

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

 

 

Veterans Day

November 11, 2013

Today is Veterans Day. This day began as Armistice Day, November 11 1918 being the day that Germany signed the armistice that ended World War I. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the first Armistice Day in 1919 to celebrate the courage of the men who fought and died in that war. The day was changed in 1954 in order to honor the veterans of all the wars of America.

I don’t have anything else to say except Thank You to all of the veterans who have served your country. You are better men and women than I am.

 


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