The holiday is over. The Holidays are in full swing. Yesterday marked the eighth and last day of Chanukah (the last candle-lighting was Wednesday night). The vast majority of Americans didn’t notice. They’re focused on Christmas. I feel for them.
I’m not much of a Chanukah gift giver. While Chanukah comes around the time of Christmas (it was way early this year), it’s not the Jewish equivalent. Theologically, Jews don’t recognize any offspring of God. In terms of significance, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover represent the major Jewish holidays. Sukkot, Simchat Torah and Purim, among others, form an important second tier.
Chanukah is meaningful, of course. It celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem following a rebellion against the Assyrian Greeks—the overlords of Judea. In truth, the war against King Antiochus IV was in great part a war among Jews. Many found Hellenism attractive, although they remained Jews. Others, including the priest Mattathias and his son Judah Maccabee (Judah the Hammer), thought Hellenism repugnant—a threat to proper Jewish worship and continuity.
Moreover, every culture at some distance from the equator seeks to brighten winter’s darkness. The Chanukiah (a menorah has seven lights, not eight plus one for Chanukah) brightens our homes, streets—we display the lights publically—and spirits.
This year, the first day of Chanukah occurred on Thanksgiving (again, candle-lighting the night before). Such timing won’t repeat for tens of thousands of years. But whatever Chanukah’s dates, there’s a lesson to be shared with those celebrating Christmas. Repeating the British government’s advice during World War Two: Keep calm and carry on.
Chanukah lasts eight days. You get into it and out of it without too much commotion. Christmas is a single day, but it encompasses about two months of activity—slow build, frenzied anticipation, big night before, big day, post-Holiday sales. Christmas shopping gets a nudge the day after Halloween. The big push comes on Black Friday. Or so it used to be. Shopping now gets serious on Thanksgiving itself. Many Americans, who often guiltily view the Christmas season with a sense of dread—expectations tend to rise above achievable levels—wonder if they’re giving thanks for freedom and opportunity or for bargains.
For marketing purposes, the special days following Thanksgiving receive names. Black Friday we know. That leads to Small Business Saturday. Sunday suggests rest, but it’s America’s day to worship in the cathedrals of the National Football League. So let’s call it what it is—Football Sunday. Cyber Monday comes next. Then Giving Tuesday. Only the Wednesday that follows lacks a name—until now.
All hail Whipped Wednesday. I call on an exhausted America to sleep late and skip work, see a therapist to sort out Thanksgiving issues and prepare for what’s next, fast between brunch and dinner, pray for strength and get to bed early to conserve strength for the Christmas parties crowding calendars for the next several weeks.
Yes, some people overdo Chanukah. But most of us manage to keep things in perspective. This thought, along with Carolyn and my five Chanukiahs, lights up my soul.
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