Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to Bleeding Heartland readers who are celebrating today, and Happy Kwanzaa to those who will be celebrating tomorrow.
Did you know that Christmas “was not among the earliest festivals of the Church”? If you enjoy reading about historical origins of religious traditions, I recommend this post on the New Advent website, along with “How December 25 Became Christmas” by Andrew McGowan, dean and president of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale University. Contrary to popular belief that Christians chose a birthday for Jesus in order to appropriate pagan celebrations around the winter solstice, McGown argues that “the key to dating Jesus’ birth may lie in the dating of Jesus’ death at Passover.”
I also enjoyed Kenneth Bailey’s analysis of the manger and the inn. More Christmas-related links are here.
The eight-day festival of Chanukah began last night, unusually late because an extra month was added to the lunar calendar during this Jewish version of a leap year. For those celebrating Chanukah with children, my best advice is to buy extra boxes of candles. Kids love to help load the menorahs, and they will break some candles.
I recommend Rabbi Brant Rosen’s reflections on a “tragic irony”: “the festival of Hanukkah, a Jewish holiday that commemorates an ancient uprising against an oppressive Assyrian ruler, is being observed as we hear the unbearably tragic reports coming from an uprising in modern-day Syria.” Follow Rosen’s links if you are interested in the ongoing debate among modern Jews about the Maccabees. Were the heroes of the Chanukah story religious fanatics who acted like the Taliban have done in Afghanistan during our lifetimes, carrying out a “civil war” against fellow Jews? Or were the Maccabees the freedom fighters celebrated by early Zionists? David Frum makes the case that the “miracle of the oil” lasting for eight days “is not the reason for the holiday. It’s a revision compiled six centuries after the fact, at a time when the true reasons for the holiday had become too embarrassing to remember.”
Rabbi Robin Podolsky is for celebrating the miracle and not viewing the Maccabees as the modern-day Taliban. But even he acknowledges,
Sadly but not shockingly, the Hasmonean dynasty launched by the Maccabees turned out to be as corrupt and decadent as everything it sought to replace. They even turned aggressively on their neighbors, seeking to convert others to Judaism by force, much as the Seleucids had attempted to convert the Jews. Contemporary Zionists who paint the Maccabees as entirely positive role models might want to remember this, especially in the context of current events. How is the “stubbornness” of Palestinians who insist on a sovereign state so different from that of our ancestors? How to make sure we don’t switch roles in the drama?
This is an open thread: all topics welcome.