Yes Virginia, Maybe Hanukkah IS the Jewish Christmas…

Christmas-Hanukkah

Among the most interesting and smart articles I’ve read about Hanukkah this year is a piece by JTS Rabbinical Student Benjamin Resnick in the Forward, in which he argues there is every reason – and in fact good historical precedence – for Jews to appreciate the beauty of Christmas even as they celebrate Hanukkah.

Resnick writes:

I say this as a committed, observant Jew and as a future rabbi. As someone who spends a great deal of time engaged in ritual, there are a handful of ritual moments that — year in and year out, and regardless of where I am physically, emotionally or spiritually — never fail to move me. The beginning of ma’ariv on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, is one. The smell of latkes is another. And the first time I hear the rum-pum-pum-pum of “The Little Drummer Boy“ is a third.

The fact is that Hanukkah menorahs and Christmas trees, “Maoz Tzur” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” potato pancakes and chow mein have become intertwined in the seasonal consciousness of American Jews. And while a great many contemporary Jewish voices go to great lengths to convince us that Hanukkah is not the “Jewish Christmas,” I would argue, from both a historical perspective and a spiritual one, that such protestations do a disservice to the very traditions they venerate.

I actually came out of this particular closet (admittedly in a much less erudite manner) several years ago when I confessed that I love listening to Christmas songs – particularly those of the aching, melancholic variety:

Is it perverse or at all sacreligious for a rabbi to be confessing his love for songs such as these? I dunno, don’t you think there’s something of a Jewish quality to them? Maybe it’s their quasi-exilic yearning (not to mention the fact that most of them were written by Jews anyhow.)

So that’s my seasonal guilty pleasure confession. And lest you judge me too quickly here, just take the test yourself. Check out James Taylor’s version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” or “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as sung by Sarah McLachlan. (Man, that last line gets me every time…)

So have yourself a Happy Little Hanukkah now…


4 Comments on “Yes Virginia, Maybe Hanukkah IS the Jewish Christmas…”

  1. Thanks. This is great. Life is what it is and we can enjoy it or not. It appears also that many of the blues songs and pop songs of the world were written by various Jewish individuals and without those songs my life would indeed be very much emptier. Keep Blogging. Keep Writing.

    Lets put on another record…whoops. I revealed my age.

  2. Therese Carson says:

    Dear Rabbi Brant Rosen,

    You have an admirer of your poetry and writings here in northern Michigan. Some time ago I found your blog on the internet while searching for photos of the new synagogue to which my brother, Brian Carson, had taken me when I was visiting his family in Chicago. I signed up for your newsletters, and now look forward to your poetic interpretations of the people in Genesis. You have captured the souls of Abraham and Jacob as deeply spiritual and vulnerable humans.

    I visit Brian and Wendy again in January, to see my new great-nephew and spend some time with Wendy, maybe to lure her out to lunch one day. It will be my last visit for a few years, as in February I enter a Benedictine monastery in Duluth as a postulant. A little late in life but not too late to grow in love with the Lord. With Augustine of Hippo I also can say, “Too late have I loved you, O Beauty of ancient days, yet ever new! Too late I loved you!” And yet not, for it’s never too late with God.

    The sister who will guide me for the next two years has offered to teach me the Hebrew of the Torah, and Brian assures me it is not too difficult, though I don’t have his facility with languages. I look forward someday to reading it as it was written, with its word play and alliteration.

    A year ago I was beginning to think of retiring and volunteering at church, and now I feel I am twenty and just beginning a wonderful adventure with my Friend and Lover. Once I fell in love with God, He offered me a better future. I am selling my home, have given away my belongings and my books, and have a new caretaker for my dear dogs, the Protestant minister who is buying my home and my gardens. There is a joke that says if you want to make God laugh tell Him your plans. He certainly got a gentle smile about mine.

    That quote from Augustine’s Confessions continued, ” Things held me far from you — things which, if they were not in you, were not at all. You called, and shouted, and burst my deafness. You flashed and shone, and scattered my blindness. You breathed odors and I drew in breath — and I pant for you. I tasted, and I hunger and thirst. You touched me, and I burned for your peace”. Perhaps the best words to express the longing for God.

    May you also find yourself lost in God’s love. Peace!

    Therese Carson

  3. […] Rabbi Brant Rosen recently confessed that, ” I love listening to Christmas songs – particularly those of the aching, melancholic variety.” He defends this guilty pleasure, in part, due to such songs’ “quasi-exilic yearning” — which is a lovely phrase. That aching and yearning is what I love about many of my favorite holiday songs. It’s cold and dark, but “maybe this year will be better than the last.” […]

  4. […] is, as the rabbi said, a kind of “quasi-exilic […]


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