Debating the merits of Hanukkah versus Christmas goes back for generations, likely because we, as a people, like to debate, regardless of the presence of actual merit.
This genetically-fueled desire for contention has prompted a new semi-regular feature here on TCJewfolk, where myself and a non-Jewish friend of mine will discuss and debate a variety of topics. I call this feature “Bacon & Lox,” and what better way to kick it off than a look at Hanukkah versus Christmas.
In this holiday sound-off, we’ll look at the music, traditions, forced family interaction, and even the national uproar regarding retail signage. But first, I need to introduce the bacon to my lox, Stephanie. Stephanie, meet the Jews. It’s my column, I get to start.
Jason: We’re both musicians, let’s start with music. Fifteen years ago I wouldn’t have bothered debating the music of Hanukkah versus Christmas, but Adam Sandler’s “Chanukkah Song” (1996) is unquestionably the most culturally relevant holiday song of the last 20 years.
Stephanie: Yes, I have to admit Adam Sandler’s humorous song helped make me more aware of the holiday, and it also expanded my knowledge of Jewish celebrities. But he may have some competition for top Hanukkah song, as Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch wrote a recently-released catchy little tune called “Eight Days of Hanukkah.” But I’m not too worried that either song will edge out the ever popular “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to climb to the top of the mall holiday music playlists.
Jason: Shiksa please! If we judge quality and popularity by what’s playing over the speakers at the mall, then we are truly done as a society. But since you brought it up, lets talk about who puts out all that Christmas music you hear at the mall… Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Barbara Streisand, Barry Manilow, Art Garfunkel, Kenny G, as well as the old standards written by Irving Berlin, Mel Torme, Sammy Cahn, and others. Jew, jew, jew, jew, jew, jew, jew, jew, jew. Goes all the way back to the early 1800s when a Jewish French composer wrote O Holy Night. Your people can’t even write and perform music for your own holiday.
Stephanie: Now I know who to blame when I’m frantically searching for the perfect gifts, while having to endure endless replays of The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire), Silver Bells and Santa Baby (for a more complete list of Christmas songs by Jews, click here). But I don’t fault the Jewish recording artists who take advantage of the fact that a Christmas album is money in the bank. And you have to admit there’s only so many songs you can write about a festival of lights. Christmas, meanwhile, has decked-out halls and trees, a baby in a manger (with a diverse cast of characters including angels, shepherds and wise men), and a jolly man in a red suit who pilots a sleigh of flying reindeer, lands on rooftops and slides down the chimney to leave surprises for good little girls and boys. Somehow Rockin’ Around the Hanukah Menorah just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Jason: Have you ever rocked around a Hanukkia? Moving on, defend these points… One night of Christmas versus eight crazy nights of Hanukkah.
Stephanie: Our celebrating and preparing for celebrating goes well beyond 8 days. For many, it begins the Black Friday after Thanksgiving, followed by the obligatory holiday parties, gift exchanges, and the consumption of sugar and fat-laden foods continuing until New Years’ Day, which explains the popularity of weight-loss resolutions. We are taught from a young age to expect and endure the tension-filled compulsory visits to relatives, and disappointment over receiving the gift we didn’t want or that doesn’t fit. (Standing in long return lines the day after Christmas is also part of the tradition.)
Jason: While you’re enduring the tension-filled compulsory visits and putting on your best fake smiles after opening ill-fitting sweaters, we all still get a day off work at Christmas (sign up for the Tzedakah Bowl, playing football on the field of the Metrodome on Christmas morning, contact Barb Adelman for more information). Basically, we get the best of our holiday and the best of yours.
Stephanie: You make a good point, and I may have to lobby for adding Hanukkah to the annual list of holidays off with pay.
Jason: Good luck with all that. Speaking of your special day, you wouldn’t understand, but there’s nothing better than Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Eve (well, maybe Jewbilee at the 501 Club hosted by IndieJews, free and open to all).
Stephanie: Yes, while you’re driving on icy roads, eating your Sweet and Sour Pork (real kosher of you, buddy), getting ready to watch Ishtar or whatever movie it is you go see, my people are building a fire, hanging stockings, preparing the milk and cookies to put on the mantle for Santa, and witnessing a state of excitement and anticipation in our children that is beyond description. All of this so we can wake up on Christmas morning to a pile of presents and stockings stuffed to the brim with goodies. May have you beat there.
Jason: So you’re comparing gathering milk and cookies for a fictional character that isn’t going to show (BECAUSE HE’S FICTIONAL) to drinking He’Brew Beer (The Chosen Beer) with hundreds of friends (and no family) at Jewbilee? Yeah, you got me alright. Moving on… You know at some point I have to play the thousands of years of persecution angle… How about the annual parade of crazy people (i.e. Focus on Family and The American Family Association) organizing boycots of retail stores that have Happy Holiday and Seasons Greetings decorations instead of Merry Christmas ones? Come on, you have to be saying “get off my side” at that point.
Stephanie: I recognize the fact that a large number of Americans do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. I support inclusiveness and diversity and equal opportunity celebrating of holidays. But I’m not sure the politically correct and generic “Happy Holidays” is the way to go. I think the best way to approach it is to build awareness of the diverse religious and cultural celebrations and traditions. Seeking to understand other traditions and share your own can be an eye-opening and enriching experience.
Jason: Your solution sounds great, and quite achievable in fantasyland, but I don’t think improved signage at Walmart will bring about the cultural awakening you’re seeking. Anything else before we’re through?
Stephanie: I’ll trade you a fruitcake and eggnog for some latkes!
Jason: Keep the fruitcake, make sure there’s enough whiskey in the eggnog, and you got a deal.
Thank you, Stephaine, for joining me for our first “Bacon & Lox” on TC Jewfolk. You have been a worthy foe, and I look forward to tackling more topics in the future. I’ll let Kyle from South Park get the last word in, from his hit song “A Lonely Jew on Christmas”.
Bacon or lox, as long as it’s local, it’s kosher.
Very funny! I love it!
Moo, you forgot to tell Stephanie the best part. What it’s like as a little Jewish pisher to wake up each morning of Chanukah and find a gift at the end of the bed. OK, sometimes it was a bag of M&Ms or a bar of soap (sorely needed when you were 9) but it was a gift a day and the fun of 8 days in succession, opening a different gift . . . compared to one morning of massive gift opening chaos and paper fire hazards strewn about. Your brother still follows this tradition . . . how about you?
Stephanie, Your comment about training up our children to expect to be disappointed with their gifts is profound.